Interstitial Lung Disease (Interstitial Pneumonitis)

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: George Schiffman, MD, FCCP
    George Schiffman, MD, FCCP

    George Schiffman, MD, FCCP

    Dr. Schiffman received his B.S. degree with High Honors in biology from Hobart College in 1976. He then moved to Chicago where he studied biochemistry at the University of Illinois, Chicago Circle. He attended Rush Medical College where he received his M.D. degree in 1982 and was elected to the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society. He completed his Internal Medicine internship and residency at the University of California, Irvine.

Understanding COPD

Interstitial lung disease facts

  • Interstitial lung disease includes a group of diseases that have thickening of the supporting tissues between the air sacs of the lungs. This thickening can be due to a variety of causes such as:
    • Associated autoimmune or collagen vascular diseases
    • Exposure to medications or toxins such as asbestos, tobacco smoke, or environmental toxins
    • Associated genetic diseases
    • The cause is not known (idiopathic).
    • The most common symptoms of interstitial lung disease are a dry cough and shortness of breath.
  • The diagnosis of interstitial lung disease typically involves imaging tests, measurement of blood oxygen levels, and sometimes, biopsies or tissue sampling.
  • Some forms of interstitial lung disease lead to irreversible scarring and respiratory failure.
  • Treatment can involve corticosteroid medications to reduce inflammation.
  • The prognosis of interstitial lung disease depends on the precise cause.
  • Some cases of interstitial lung disease do not have an identifiable cause and are referred to as idiopathic.

What is interstitial lung disease?

Interstitial lung disease includes a group of diseases that have thickening of the supporting tissues between the air sacs of the lungs as the common factor. The interstitium is a thin layer of tissue that is normally appears as a fine lace on X-rays or imaging studies (best visualized as the appearance of a sponge).

Interstitial lung disease results from a variety of causes that lead to thickening of the supporting tissue around the air sacs rather than the air sacs themselves. Interstitial lung disease usually involves all of the lungs diffusely rather than affecting only one area.

Disease of the interstitium is recognized on imaging studies as a thick lace (sponge), sometimes symmetric, and in other types, scattered and irregular.

Several terms related to interstitial lung disease have been used to describe this condition, including "interstitial pneumonia." However, since "pneumonia" is usually associated with an infection, some doctors choose to use the term "interstitial pneumonitis" to refer to inflammation in the interstitial space since many of the causes of this inflammation are not infections. "Interstitial fibrosis" is the term used to refer to the scarring of the lungs that can result from prolonged interstitial inflammation. Interstitial lung disease can be acute (coming on suddenly) or chronic (occurring over time).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/22/2016

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