Pulmonary fibrosis vs. COPD: What are the differences?

Both pulmonary fibrosis and COPD are lung diseases which can make it hard for you to breathe. But pulmonary fibrosis and COPD are not the same.

What is COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) includes the conditions chronic bronchitis and emphysema. In chronic bronchitis, the bronchial (airway) tubes are swollen and narrow, and produce excessive mucus, leading to a chronic productive cough (‘smoker’s cough’). In emphysema, the lung tissue (alveoli) is destroyed, leading to breathlessness. Most people with COPD have a combination of chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Most cases of COPD are caused by tobacco smoking. Stopping smoking is the best way to stop COPD from getting worse. There are about 1.2 million people living with COPD in the UK.

What is pulmonary fibrosis?

Pulmonary fibrosis (PF) is a group of lung conditions which cause scarring in the lungs. The cause of your lung scarring depends on your pulmonary fibrosis condition. There are around 70,000 people in the UK living with PF.

Symptoms of COPD and pulmonary fibrosis

Some of the symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis are the same as those of COPD. These include:

·       Breathlessness

·       Cough

·       Tiredness and fatigue

·       Swelling in the legs

Treatment for COPD and pulmonary fibrosis

The drug treatments for COPD and pulmonary fibrosis are different. If you have COPD, you may be given inhalers which help open up narrowed bronchial airways. Inhalers do not help PF.

Pulmonary fibrosis patients may receive anti-fibrotic drugs and other drug treatments. It is also possible to have COPD and pulmonary fibrosis (sometimes referred to as combined pulmonary fibrosis and emphysema, CPFE) and so you could receive treatments for both conditions.

Non-drug treatments for COPD and pulmonary fibrosis are the same – including pulmonary rehabilitation for breathlessness and oxygen for low oxygen levels.

Outlook for COPD and pulmonary fibrosis

COPD and pulmonary fibrosis are both life-limiting diseases. You can find and join a support group to help you manage your lung condition.

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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