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SALT LAKE CITY — No doubt you’ve heard of lung diseases like tuberculosis and cystic fibrosis, but did you know how damaging they can be to your body? These diseases are among five of the most deadly lung problems you can develop.
Below are short explanations of these five deadly diseases and what to expect if you or a family member develop one.
1. Tuberculosis (TB)
Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection most often found in the lungs, but it can also be found in the lymphatic system and other vital organs. TB bacteria cause death of tissue in body organs they infect.
Most people who are exposed to TB never develop symptoms because the bacteria can live in an inactive form in the body — a condition known as latent TB. But if the immune system weakens, TB bacteria can become active, transitioning disease to actual TB. Active TB disease can be fatal if left untreated.
Symptoms: The symptoms of TB can vary depending on where it’s located in the body. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists the following as common symptoms:
- A bad cough that lasts three weeks or longer
- Pain in the chest
- Coughing up blood or sputum (phlegm from deep inside the lungs)
- Weakness or fatigue
- Weight loss
- No appetite
- Sweating at night
Treatment: There are several different medication regimens that have been found to effectively fight TB. The aggressiveness of treatment depends on the aggressiveness of the TB bacteria.
Once you have TB, you will always have it. It will flare up when your body is undergoing any kind of stress. By having the disease closely monitored by a doctor, patients can often keep the more serious symptoms at bay.
2. Pulmonary hypertension
A person with pulmonary hypertension has abnormally high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs. The condition makes the right side of the person's heart work harder than normal to push the blood through, and this will also cause heart failure.
Symptoms: Pulmonary hypertension symptoms can include the following, according to WebMD:
- Chest pain
- Passing out suddenly
- Swelling of the legs (edema)
Treatment: This is another lung disease that has a very low survival rate. Doctors often prescribe blood vessel dilator medications to treat the disease. Patients can also be subject to surgeries such as atrial septostomy or a lung transplant.
3. Cystic fibrosis (CF)
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that affects the glands that produce mucus and sweat. The condition causes mucus to become thick and sticky in the lungs. As the mucus builds up, it can block airways and create a more formidable environment for bacteria growth.
CF will also prevent necessary digestive enzymes from reaching your intestines. The body needs these enzymes to digest nutrients in food that you eat, so most people with CF are also malnourished.
Symptoms: The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s website states that people with CF can have a variety of symptoms, including:
- Very salty-tasting skin
- Persistent coughing, at times with phlegm
- Frequent lung infections
- Wheezing or shortness of breath
- Poor growth/weight gain in spite of a good appetite
- Frequent greasy, bulky stools or difficulty in bowel movements
Treatment: CF is a deadly disease for which there is no known cure. Many people with the disease do not survive past 30 years of age. Treatment used by doctors is mainly supportive — such as respiratory treatments, medications and nutrition support.
4. Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
ARDS occurs when fluid builds up in tiny, elastic air sacs in your lungs. More fluid in your lungs means less oxygen will reach your bloodstream, depriving your organs of the oxygen they need to function.
ARDS typically occurs in people who are already critically ill or who have significant injuries. It will usually develop within a few hours to a few days after the original disease or trauma.
Symptoms: As outlined by the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of ARDS include:
- Severe shortness of breath
- Labored and unusually rapid breathing
- Low blood pressure
- Confusion and extreme tiredness
Treatment: There is no cure for ARDS, and the main treatment is supportive care of the patient until the inflammatory process goes away. This could take days or weeks.
The disease is very unpredictable. Many people who develop ARDS don't survive, and the risk of death increases with age and severity. Of those who survive, some recover completely while others experience lasting damage to their lungs and body.
5. Lung cancer
Lung cancer starts when abnormal cells grow out of control in the lungs. This disease and smoking often go hand in hand, but recent studies have documented an increasing number of cases in non-smokers, particularly women.
Symptoms: What makes lung cancer so deadly is it initially doesn’t have any signs or symptoms. As lung cancer stages advance, the symptoms may include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and bloody mucus.
Treatment: As with other cancers, lung cancer can be treated with chemotherapy, radiation and surgical removal of a tumor. Still, the survival rate for this cancer is low.
One thing to remember when dealing with any lung disease or disorder: when the lungs are affected, the heart will also be affected. Likewise, if you have heart disease, you will also have lung problems. They are two organs that work hand in hand.
Suzanne Carlile, "Nurse Suzy," has been a nurse since 1982. Her main focus is critical care and nursing education. She holds a master's degree in nursing, is a Certified Emergency Nurse, and a member of NNSDO Intermountain West Chapter.