Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF)

Causes of IPF

The term idiopathic means the cause is not known.

Researchers now believe that the body creates fibrosis in response to damage in the lung. The initial damage might be from:

  • acid reflux from the stomach
  • viruses  – in some studies, IPF has been linked to certain viruses, including the Epstein Barr virus, which causes glandular fever. The herpes virus and hepatitis C have also been suggested as possible causes 
  • environmental factors such as breathing in kinds of dusts - It’s more common if you’ve been exposed at work to dust from wood, metal, textiles or stone, or from cattle or farming

Some people may be genetically predisposed to develop IPF when their lung is damaged.

The scar tissue cannot currently be changed back to healthy tissue, so there is no cure yet for IPF. Current treatments aim to slow the rate of scarring, but they do not stop it.

Before the availability of specific treatments, studies showed that almost half of people with IPF in the UK died within three years of their diagnosis. However, about one in five people lived for more than five years after they were diagnosed. Clinicians believe the treatments now available will mean that people diagnosed today will survive longer.

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Last medically reviewed: September 2016. Due for review: September 2019

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.