SYMPTOMS MAY NOT BE PRESENT early in the disease and may not occur until the disease has progressed. Most patients will have a gradual worsening of lung function over time, although some will remain stable. Some patients may experience episodes of acute worsening of lung function without a clinically apparent infection or other cause; these episodes of acute worsening are called “acute exacerbations.”

The most common symptom is shortness of breath, also known as dyspnea, which many patients describe as a feeling of breathlessness. Some patients, especially older patients, often ignore the occasional difficulty with breathing, attributing it to getting older or being out of shape. As the condition progresses and the damage to the lungs becomes more severe, breathlessness may occur with minor physical activity such as showering and getting dressed. Speaking on the phone and eating may also cause breathlessness with advanced disease. About 50% of patients with IPF may have “clubbing” of the fingertips due to a lack of oxygen in the blood. Clubbing is a thickening of the flesh under the fingernails, causing the nails to curve downward. Clubbing of the fingertips is not specific to IPF and occurs in other lung disorders, heart and liver disease, and can also be present at birth.

Other common symptoms include:

  • Chronic dry, hacking cough
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Discomfort in the chest
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss

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Updated April 2013
This information has been approved by Gregory P. Cosgrove, MD (September 2012)