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Treatment - Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis

There's currently no cure for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). The main aim of treatment is to relieve the symptoms as much as possible and slow down its progression.

As the condition becomes more advanced, end of life (palliative) care will be offered.

Self care

There are several things you can do to stay as healthy as possible if you have IPF.

These include:

Read about managing breathlessness on the Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis website

Medicines

There are 2 medicines that can help slow down the progression of IPF in some people: pirfenidone and nintedanib.

Pirfenidone

Pirfenidone has been shown to help slow down the process of scarring in the lungs by reducing the activity of the immune system.

It's normally taken as capsules 3 times a day.

It's recommended if breathing tests have shown your lung capacity is 50% to 80% of what would normally be expected.

If your condition gets worse despite taking pirfenidone and your lung capacity falls by 10% or more within a year, the medicine will usually be stopped.

Side effects of pirfenidone can include:

There have been reports of pirfenidone causing serious liver damage. While this risk is thought to be low, serious liver damage can be fatal.

If you’re prescribed pirfenidone, you’ll have blood tests to check your liver function before starting treatment and at regular intervals during treatment.

Symptoms of liver damage include:

  • yellowing of the eyes or skin
  • loss of appetite
  • itchy skin
  • your pee turns a darker colour
  • feeling tired
  • pain in the upper right side of your stomach

If you have any of these symptoms, then stop taking your medicine and talk to your doctor immediately. If this is not possible call 111 for advice.

See the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines about pirfenidone for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis

Nintedanib

Nintedanib is a newer medicine that can also help slow down scarring of the lungs in some people with IPF.

It's normally taken as capsules twice a day.

Like pirfenidone, it may be used if you have a lung capacity 50% to 80% of what would normally be expected, and should be stopped if your lung capacity falls by 10% or more in a year while taking it.

Side effects of nintedanib can include:

See the NICE guidelines about nintedanib for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis

Oxygen support

IPF can cause levels of oxygen in your blood to fall, which can make you feel more breathless.

If this happens, oxygen treatment can help with your breathing and allow you to be more active.

Oxygen is taken through nasal tubes or a mask attached to a small machine. This device provides a much higher level of oxygen than the air.

The tubes from the machine are long, so you'll be able to move around your home while connected.

Find out more about home oxygen therapy

Portable oxygen devices that you can use while you're out and about are also available.

Pulmonary rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehabilitation is used for many long-term lung conditions.

It aims to help people come to terms with their condition, learn the best ways to deal with it and improve their ability to function on a daily basis without severe breathlessness.

Courses in pulmonary rehabilitation are usually held locally and may involve:

  • education about pulmonary fibrosis
  • physical activity
  • breathing exercises
  • advice on nutrition
  • psychological support
  • a social support network

Video: Pulmonary rehabilitation

This video explores pulmonary rehabilitation and how exercise can improve the symptoms of lung conditions like COPD and pulmonary fibrosis.

Media last reviewed: 1 February 2021
Media review due: 1 February 2024

Find out more about pulmonary rehabilitation on the Asthma and Lung UK website

Lung transplant

If your condition continues to get worse despite treatment, your specialist may recommend a lung transplant.

The decision to have a transplant will be based on:

  • how bad your condition is
  • how quickly your condition is getting worse
  • your age and general health
  • how much your condition is likely to improve after a transplant
  • whether a donor lung is available

A lung transplant can significantly improve life expectancy in people with IPF, although it's a major procedure that puts a great strain on the body.

Few people with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis are suitable candidates for a transplant, and donor lungs are scarce.

Palliative care

If you're told there's nothing more that can be done to treat you, or you decide not to have treatment, your GP or care team will give you support and treatment to relieve your symptoms.

This is called palliative care.

You can choose to have palliative care:

  • at home
  • in a care home
  • in hospital
  • in a hospice

Your doctor or care team should work with you to establish a clear plan based on your wishes.

Find out more about end of life care

Page last reviewed: 18 October 2022
Next review due: 18 October 2025