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Pulmonary Fibrosis

Knowing when it`s terminal

07/12/2007

Question:

My father in law was diagnosed with severe lung fibrosis about 3 months ago. He never went to the doctor much. He failed the breathing tests they did on him he could not breathe good enough for good results. He is extremely winded walking only 4-5 ft. to an elevator. He is on oxegen at night but just lately has developed a sore throat that wont go away, coughing bad again and cannot talk longer than 3-4 minutes without getting extremely dry and hoarse where he has to just hang up. He is 81 years old and thinks he is just getting old but please can you tell us by his symptoms just how long he MIGHT have? The doctors had said its too late for steroid medication so he is on nothing but oxyegen. Is he close or at least in what we would call a very terminal stage? He is losing weight because he thinks he cant anything because of his cartoid artery blockage-they wont do surgery for that either because they said he would not survive the surgery! His wife has lung cancer(smoker for 55 years) so the smoke is still a everyday occurence in his life. We just want to know if it sounds like he is "terminal" or not long for this world? He seems to be getting worse with his throat problems. My own doctor said he will eventually choke to death(was just trying to be honest with us) so when do we know that , that time has come? The doctor never returns calls.

Answer:

This situation is complex and not easily addressed by this format, unfortunately. Pulmonary fibrosis is often very serious, and if this is the idiopathic form - called IPF for short - it generally means survival is less than 5 years from time of diagnosis. Of course, other factors such as age and concomitant conditions need to be considered as well. From what you have provided, the prognosis sounds extremely poor.

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Response by:

Mark D Wewers, MD Mark D Wewers, MD
Professor of Pulmonology, Allergy, Critical Care & Sleep
Molecular Virology, Immunology & Medical Genetics
Environmental Health Sciences
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University