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The term idiopathic means "cause unknown." The idiopathic infiltrative lung diseases, also known as interstitial lung diseases, are a group of more than a hundred disorders seen in both adults and (less often) in children, whose cause is unknown but which tend to spread, or "infiltrate" through much or all of the lung tissue. They range from mild conditions that respond well to treatment, to progressive, nonresponsive disease states that severely limit lung function and may cause death.
The body produces inflammatory cells in response to a variety of conditions, including a number of different diseases, pollutants, certain infections, exposure to organic dust or toxic fumes and vapors, and various drugs and poisons. When white blood cells and tissue fluid rich in protein collect in the small air sacs of the lungs, or alveoli, the sacs become inflamed (alveolitis). In time, the fluid may solidify and cause scar formation that replaces the normal lung tissue. This process is known as pulmonary fibrosis. In about half of all patients, no specific cause is ever found; they are said to have idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
Some patients have special types of interstitial lung disease that may occur in certain types of patients, or feature typical pathological changes when a sample of lung tissue is examined under a microscope. They include:
Author Info: David A. Cramer MD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 2002This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare professional with any health concerns you may have.
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