Interstitial lung disease and pulmonary fibrosis: A practical approach for general medicine physicians with focus on the medical history

Or Kalchiem-Dekel, Jeffrey R. Galvin, Allen P. Burke, Sergei P. Atamas, Nevins W. Todd

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Interstitial lung disease (ILD) and pulmonary fibrosis comprise a wide array of inflammatory and fibrotic lung diseases which are often confusing to general medicine and pulmonary physicians alike. In addition to the myriad of clinical and radiologic nomenclature used in ILD, histopathologic descriptors may be particularly confusing, and are often extrapolated to radiologic imaging patterns which may further add to the confusion. We propose that rather than focusing on precise histologic findings, focus should be on identifying an accurate etiology of ILD through a comprehensive and detailed medical history. Histopathologic patterns from lung biopsy should not be dismissed, but are often nonspecific, and overall treatment strategy and prognosis are likely to be determined more by the specific etiology of ILD rather than any particular histologic pattern. In this review, we outline a practical approach to common ILDs, highlight important aspects in obtaining an exposure history, clarify terminology and nomenclature, and discuss six common subgroups of ILD likely to be encountered by general medicine physicians in the inpatient or outpatient setting: Smoking-related, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, connective tissue disease-related, occupation-related, medication-induced, and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Accurate diagnosis of these forms of ILD does require supplementing the medical history with results of the physical examination, autoimmune serologic testing, and chest radiographic imaging, but the importance of a comprehensive environmental, avocational, occupational, and medication-use history cannot be overstated and is likely the single most important factor responsible for achieving the best possible outcomes for patients.

Original languageEnglish
Article number476
JournalJournal of Clinical Medicine
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Autoimmune
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
  • Occupation
  • Smoking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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