By Cara Murez
health day reporter
WEDNESDAY, March 15, 2023 (HealthDay News) — Black patients are dying of pulmonary fibrosis, a devastating disease marked by progressive scarring of the lungs, at a significantly younger age than white patients.
A new study examines factors contributing to early onset of illness, hospitalization and death in black patients.
The disease involves thickening and scarring of lung tissue, which makes it difficult to breathe. This can be from exposure to toxins, medications, or autoimmune diseases. About half of patients die within five years of being diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis.
“Pulmonary fibrosis is a deadly disease, and people are often diagnosed just as they retire,” said lead author Dr. Ayodeji Adegunsoye, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center. .
“You can imagine how devastating it would be to work diligently all your life and then, just as you’re about to retire, you’re diagnosed with a disease with a life expectancy of about three years,” a- he said in a press release from the center.
Researchers looked at data from four US hospitals, following results from more than 4,500 patients between January 2003 and April 2021.
On average, black patients were diagnosed at 57.9 years, white patients at 68.6 years.
Black patients were more likely to be female and more likely to be hospitalized than white and Hispanic patients, the researchers found. Black patients were consistently younger at the time of their first hospitalization, lung transplant and death.
Adegunsoye said his work with patients on the impoverished South Side of Chicago was the origin of the study.
“This disease has no clear cause or cure, but it is not cancer; the poor prognosis made me wonder if black patients are as affected by this disease as whites, and whether or not they experienced different outcomes,” Adegunsoye said. “And we’ve seen that black patients’ experience with the disease is accelerated by about 10 years. ”
The disparities may be related to lifestyle and socioeconomic factors that put black patients at higher risk, the study said.
“For example, black people are more likely to live along transit corridors, which exposes them to more air pollution,” Adegunsoye said. “They are also more likely to be underinsured or uninsured. Being black is not the health risk; it is the environmental and societal factors that make it difficult for black patients to access high-quality care.
Risk factors for the disease include air pollution, jobs in which there is a higher risk of inhaling particles, and smoking.
Adegunsoye called the findings so profound that everyone should be screened for the disease earlier, especially those with risk factors.
“If you can catch the disease earlier, the results will improve,” he said. ‘We know more about the disease now than 10 years ago, and although there is no cure, there are treatments available – some of them are as simple as changing the environment. or wearing a mask to reduce environmental exposure, but there are also medications that can slow disease progression.
Although not all coughs are a sign of pulmonary fibrosis, patients and their healthcare teams should carefully assess symptoms, he said.
His team is currently investigating the role of molecular mechanisms and environmental exposures in racial disparities.
Understanding how pollution, diet and stress can alter human biology can help clarify why and how some patients end up with pulmonary fibrosis, the researchers said.
They are also studying whether having COVID-19 increases the risk of pulmonary fibrosis.
Adegunsoye said he just wanted patients to get what they need when they need it, including information on how protecting their lungs from pollutants and irritants is an easy way to prevent many types of pulmonary fibrosis.
“Something as simple as wearing a mask if you work in a refinery or factory could help,” he said. “People need to understand that breathing clean air, as simple as it sounds, can make a huge difference.”
The results of the study were published on March 10 in Open JAMA Network.
The American Lung Association has more on pulmonary fibrosis.
SOURCE: University of Chicago Medical Center, press release, March 10, 2023