Acute exacerbations of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis

Respiration. 2013;86(4):265-74. doi: 10.1159/000355485. Epub 2013 Oct 19.


Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a chronic, progressive and ultimately fatal disease, with a highly variable course in individual patients. Episodes of rapid deterioration are not uncommon, often following a period of stability. In cases of uncertain etiology, with typical clinical and high-resolution computed tomography (HRCT) features, the term 'acute exacerbation of IPF' (AE-IPF) has been coined to describe a combination of diffuse alveolar damage and preexisting usual interstitial pneumonia. In 2007, a consensus definition and diagnostic criteria were proposed. Although the presence of overt infection is currently an exclusion criterion, it appears likely that occult infection, reflux and thoracic surgical procedures are all trigger factors for AE-IPF. The development of new, usually bilateral infiltrates (ground-glass attenuation with variable admixed consolidation) is a defining HRCT feature. The outcome is poor with a short-term mortality in excess of 50% despite therapy. A number of pathophysiologic pathways are activated, with immunologic dysregulation, epithelial damage and circulating fibrocytes all believed to play a pathogenetic role. Acute exacerbations are less prevalent in other fibrotic lung diseases than in IPF and may have a better outcome, with the exception of acute exacerbations of rheumatoid lung. In AE-IPF, the exclusion of alternative causes of rapid deterioration, including heart failure and infection, is the main goal of investigation. Empirical high-dose corticosteroid steroid therapy is generally used in AE-IPF, without proven benefit.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis / etiology*
  • Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis / metabolism
  • Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis / therapy*
  • Terminology as Topic
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed