Black patients with pulmonary fibrosis are younger than Hispanic and white counterparts

Pulmonary fibrosis is a devastating disease characterized by progressive scarring in the lungs, killing up to half of patients within five years of a diagnosis. Little is known about whether there are differences in how the condition affects individuals of different ethnicities. New research at the University of Chicago Medicine has found that Black patients with pulmonary fibrosis are significantly younger than their Hispanic and white counterparts across a wide variety of disease metrics, including diagnosis, first hospitalization, lung transplant and death.

"Pulmonary fibrosis is a deadly disease, and people are often diagnosed right around the time they retire," said Ayodeji Adegunsoye, MD, MS, Assistant Professor of Medicine at UChicago Medicine and lead author on the study, published March 10 in JAMA Network Open. "You can imagine how devastating it would be, to work diligently all your life and then as you are about to retire, you're diagnosed with a disease with a life expectancy of around three years. Anything that increases the mortality of this disease should be carefully examined."

The study examined data from four geographically distinct hospitals across the U.S. and followed the outcomes for over 4,500 patients between January 2003 and April 2021. The results found that Black patients were diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis at an average age of 57.9 years, compared to 68.6 years for white patients. Black patients were also less likely to be male and more likely to be hospitalized compared to white and Hispanic patients, and were consistently younger at the time of their first hospitalization, lung transplant and death.

"I was driven to study this question through my work with patients with pulmonary fibrosis on the South Side of Chicago," Adegunsoye said. "This disease has no clear cause and no cure, but it is not a 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. And we saw that Black patients' experience with the disease is accelerated by about 10 years."