Fasting during Ramadan with pulmonary fibrosis

If you are diagnosed with or affected by pulmonary fibrosis (PF), there can be a lot to think about during Ramadan. We've put together this guide to help you enjoy this time whilst looking after your physical and mental health.

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. The Qur’an, the Islamic religious text, says that Ramadan is a holy and spiritual month which is observed by Muslims (people who follow the Islamic faith). The Five Pillars of Islam are the five core beliefs and principles that all Muslim people are expected to follow. One of these pillars is symbolised by the month of Ramadan and the practice of fasting during this month.

The Islamic calendar is based on the position of the moon so Ramadan falls on slightly different dates each year. In 2023, Ramadan will begin on 22-23 March and finish on 21-22 April, depending on when the moon is first sighted.

How does fasting work during Ramadan?

A complete fast is expected during Ramadan, so, during daylight hours, people must not:

  • Eat anything
  • Drink anything
  • Take medications by mouth
  • Smoke

The fast is broken with iftar, the meal eaten at dusk. People can eat and drink throughout the night as they please. Suhoor is the final meal of the night, eaten just before the fast starts again at dawn.

The reason for fasting

One of the main reasons for fasting is to increase taqwa (a closeness to Allah). Fasting also develops self discipline, an appreciation for what you have and compassion for those who are less fortunate than you. Ramadan is also used as a time for spiritual development through worship, charitable acts and spending time with family.

Does everyone have to fast?

Healthy people who have reached puberty are expected to fast. People who are:

  • Mentally or physically ill or frail
  • Elderly
  • Pregnant
  • Menstruating, or
  • Travelling

are exempt from fasting.

I have pulmonary fibrosis, should I fast?

If you have , you are exempt from fasting. Fasting is not always safe for people with  so if you are considering fasting, talk to your healthcare team. This could be your GP or someone in your interstitial lung disease (ILD) team such as your nurse or consultant.

Having PF can make fasting more difficult for several reasons. Fasting often results in dehydration and fatigue, which can be difficult to manage if you have PF. If you take medications during the day, you will need to discuss with your doctor or pharmacist whether the schedule could be changed to allow you to take them at night instead. Additionally, you would not be able to suck sweets or drink water to manage your cough.

Deciding whether or not to fast is a personal decision that will depend on your PF symptoms and general health.

I care for someone with pulmonary fibrosis, should I fast?

If you aren’t exempt under one of the criteria above then you are expected to fast during Ramadan. However, caring for someone with PF often involves helping them with physical activities such as walking, moving in bed or household chores so you should consider the effect that fasting will have on your ability to do this. If you are concerned that fasting could affect the health of yourself or the person you are caring for, you should discuss with your healthcare team.

There are other ways to participate in Ramadan (see below) and you could discuss this with your Imam.

If I fast, what can I do to keep healthy?

  • Plan for Ramadan as best as you can. This might mean rescheduling social events or other commitments until after Ramadan, or planning your days to limit how much you have to do during daylight. This isn’t always possible of course. If you are caring for someone with PF then you can’t always wait to do something until dusk.
  • Prioritise rest and make sure you are getting enough sleep.
  • If you usually drink caffeine, be aware that you may get some withdrawal symptoms whilst fasting. This can include headaches and tiredness, but usually improves as your body gets used to not having caffeine. Some people find that reducing the amount of caffeine they have before Ramadan helps to manage withdrawal symptoms.
  • Aim to eat a balanced diet with plenty of complex carbohydrates for energy during the day.
  • Look after your mental health in the way that works best for you. That might mean resting more, spending time doing hobbies or activities that bring you joy, or talking about how you feel with someone you trust. Read more about looking after your mental health here.
  • Connect with family and friends during this time. If you can’t always get together in person, try a virtual iftar over Zoom.
  • If you take any medications during the day, discuss with your GP if the schedule can be changed so you can take them at night.

Other ways to participate in Ramadan

If you cannot fast for Ramadan, you can still observe this holy month in other ways.

  • Call or visit friends or family to check in with them and offer support, especially those who may be experiencing Ramadan alone.
  • Volunteer your time or skills. If you are well enough, there are lots of volunteering options out there.
  • If you care for someone with PF, remember that care giving can be an act of service and a purpose.
  • Donate to a charitable organisation such as local food banks.
  • Attend social events such as visiting your local Mosque.
  • Devote more time to prayer, worship and self reflection.

Further reading

Muslim Council of Britain: 2023 Ramadan guide

British Nutrition Foundation: A healthy Ramadan

 

The Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis support line is open 9am-5pm Monday to Friday throughout Ramadan if you need advice or support.

Ramadan Mubarak!

Information provided by Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis (APF) is not a substitute for professional medical advice. It’s intended as general information only. APF is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for any loss or damage suffered by users resulting from the information published on actionpf.org.

Further information for carers:

Your essential caring guide (PDF)
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