Diagnosis of IPF

How is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis diagnosed?

To diagnose IPF, the doctor will take a thorough medical history to rule out other lung-related illnesses or medical causes, and then perform a physical examination. The physical exam is not specific enough to make the diagnosis of IPF, but it can identify some telltale signs. The doctor will also listen to the patient’s chest to determine if the lungs are producing any abnormal sounds when the patient breathes. The doctor may then order one or more of the diagnostic tests or procedures shown in the chart. To make a diagnosis of IPF requires a CT scan of the chest, and sometimes a lung biopsy.

Diagnostic Tests for Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis

Chest Imaging Studies

  • X-rays or high-resolution CT scans.
    • To rule out other diseases, allow for early (and in some cases definitive) diagnosis, assess extent of disease (changes in bronchial structure, scarring pattern throughout the lung).

Lung Biopsy

  • Taking a small sample of lung tissue, usually by a small incision through the ribs with a thoracoscope.
    • To directly examine lung tissue to aid in the diagnosis of IPF or other lung diseases.

Pulmonary Function Test

  • Using a device to measure breathing capacity.
    • To measure the degree of damage to lung function and to see if the disease has advanced.

Oxygen Desaturation Study

  • The patient walks for almost 6 minutes while his or her oxygen level is measured through a probe attached to the finger or the forehead.
    • To determine the need for oxygen and to see if the disease has advanced.

Other Laboratory Tests

  • Autoantibody tests, full blood count, electrolytes, creatinine levels, liver function tests, arterial blood gas.
    • To rule out other diseases, monitor changes in body functions over time.