A leading respiratory expert has warned the UK is sitting on a lung disease “time bomb”.
Professor Luca Richeldi, a consultant in respiratory medicine at Southampton General Hospital, said idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), which is already responsible for 5,000 deaths annually, is increasing at a rate of 5,000 new cases a year.
The condition, which is part of a group of disorders known collectively as interstitial lung disease, causes inflammation and scarring of the lung tissue, leaving sufferers with a life expectancy of three to five years.
It is estimated that IPF affects around 15,000 people over 60 in the UK, mainly men and former smokers, but can affect anyone and its cause is currently unknown.
In addition, it often goes undiagnosed until the onset of symptoms such as shortness of breath and coughing and, as a result, intervention with the only available treatment, the anti-fibrotic drug Esbriet, can only slow down progression of the disease.
“Nationally, the number of people suffering from IPF and other interstitial lung disease is increasing by thousands every year, but the cause is often unknown,” explained Prof Richeldi.
“As a result, the majority of patients are diagnosed late when their life expectancy has been cut extremely short.”
More than a quarter (28%) of patients currently being treated at Southampton General Hospital’s respiratory centre have some form of interstitial lung disease, with four to six new cases presenting every week.
Prof Richeldi said the numbers demonstrated there was an “urgent need” to develop a quick and simple way of diagnosing early IPF and has re-launched a study he began in Italy to discover if electronic stethoscopes – usually used to listen to the heart – can detect early signs of the disease.
“In particular at a time when treatments to slow disease progression are becoming available, we urgently need to develop a quick, cheap and simple tool to increase the number of patients treated early in their disease course” he said.
“We believe using electronic stethoscopes to identify distinctive sounds, which we already know are similar to ripped Velcro, could alert clinicians to people who might be developing the early stages of the disease.
“They could then be sent for chest high-resolution CT scan to confirm the diagnosis, ideally before they become symptomatic, and give us the opportunity to start an appropriate close monitoring programme and intervene before the condition has taken hold.”
Prof Richeldi, who has also been made academic chair in interstitial lung disease by the University of Southampton, will give an insight into his career and current research at an event in Winchester on Saturday (29 March).
The evening event – entitled Velcro Lung – will take place at the city’s Discovery Centre from 7pm to 8.30pm. Tickets, priced at £10 (£8 concessions), are available from the booking office on 01962 873603.
Posted on Wednesday 26 March 2014