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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

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Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis

Getting a Diagnosis

IPF is hard to tell apart from other lung diseases because it shares many of the same signs. It may take time and a lot of visits to the doctor to get the right diagnosis. If you have trouble breathing that doesn’t get better, you’ll need to see a pulmonologist, a doctor who treats lung problems.

The doctor will use a stethoscope to listen to your lungs. She might ask questions like:

  • How long have you been feeling this way?
  • Have you ever smoked?
  • Do you work with chemicals at your job or home? What kinds?
  • Has anyone in your family been diagnosed with IPF?
  • Do you have any other medical conditions?
  • Have you ever been told you had the Epstein-Barr virus, influenza A, hepatitis C, or HIV?

Your doctor also will give you one or more of these tests:

  • Chest X-ray. It uses radiation in low doses to make images of organs inside your body.
  • Exercise test. You walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike while someone checks the levels of oxygen in your blood through a probe on your fingertip or attached to your forehead.
  • High resolution CT, or computed tomography. This is a powerful X-ray that makes detailed pictures of your organs. It can help find out how severe your IPF is and possibly the cause.
  • Biopsy . The doctor removes small pieces of your lung tissue and examines them under a microscope. This may be done with surgery or with a flexible tube and small camera that looks down your throat and into your lungs. This is called bronchoscopy. Sometimes doctors use fluid to wash out your lungs and remove cells to study them. This usually happens in a hospital, and you'll be asleep for it.
  • Pulse oximetry and arterial blood gas tests. They measure how much oxygen is in your blood.
  • Spirometry. You blow as hard as you can into a mouthpiece attached to a device called a spirometer. It measures how well your lungs are working by showing how much air you can blow out.

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