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Pulmonary fibrosis

Drug-induced interstitial lung disease

This page is about interstitial lung disease (ILD) caused by medication (drugs) or treatment.

On this page:

What is drug-induced interstitial lung disease?

Any medication can have side effects. In rare cases, medicines can damage the lung tissue and cause inflammation which may cause pulmonary fibrosis (scarring of the lungs).  

Some of the more common medication types that are known to carry the risk of pulmonary fibrosis include certain:  

  • antibiotics, particularly nitrofurantoin  
  • immunosuppressant drugs, such as methotrexate 
  • drugs for heart conditions, particularly amiodarone  
  • cancer chemotherapy drugs
  • biological agents used to treat cancer or immune disorders. 

There are many other drugs that can potentially cause ILDs. Before starting any medication, you and your doctor will weigh up the risks and benefits. Sometimes the choices are difficult, especially if it’s a life-saving treatment. It’s important to tell your doctor about any new symptoms you have.

The situation varies for each individual and for each drug. Breathing problems from drug-induced pulmonary fibrosis can come on suddenly or develop more slowly over time. 

What’s the treatment for drug-induced interstitial lung disease?

If it’s found a drug you’re taking or treatment you’re on is causing interstitial lung disease, you’ll be advised to stop the treatment to prevent any further damage, and your treatment will be changed in consultation with your specialist or GP. You might also be prescribed immunosuppressant treatment (such as steroids) to help your body’s immune response. 

What’s the outlook for drug-induced interstitial lung disease?

If a drug has caused fibrosis, people often get better quickly if the medication is stopped before much damage is done. Identifying this problem and stopping the drug is the key intervention.

Steroid medication can help calm down your body’s response to the medication. But some people may have lasting lung damage. The prognosis (likely course of the condition) depends on the medication that caused the fibrosis, how much fibrosis occurred and the person’s overall health. Most forms of drug related ILD aren’t considered to be progressive if the drug is withdrawn before much damage is done.

Read more about how pulmonary fibrosis is treated and things you can do to look after yourself.

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Last medically reviewed: June 2022. Due for review: June 2025

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.