Asbestos related pleural thickening is a benign condition which represents calcification and hardening of the protective membrane lining of the lung (pleura). Often referred to as scarring of the lungs it is caused by inhalation of asbestos dust and fibres. The disease is irreversible and usually progresses slowly but in the majority of cases remains stable.
Pleural thickening is usually described as Diffuse pleural thickening (DPT) when there is obliteration to the costophrenic angle (lung base) and can be found in one lung (unilateral pleural thickening) or in both lungs (bilateral pleural thickening)
Breathlessness and tightness across chest, initially upon exertion
Pleural thickening is a non-malignant disease affecting the pleura of the lung which is caused by inhaling asbestos dust and fibres which become trapped inside the lungs and over time leads to inflammation and scarring.
It is important you discuss any health concerns with your GP at the earliest opportunity. Your GP will undertake a physical examination and discuss with you the basis of your concern and it is important you outline details of your earlier exposure to asbestos.
A number of diagnostic investigations can be carried out to confirm pleural thickening which might include:
Pleural thickening will normally be detected in the lower lung area and present itself as shadowing which can be further clarified by CT Scan. An x-ray might also confirm the existence of another asbestos related condition such as pleural plaques which is a benign scarring condition of the lungs caused by inhalation of asbestos fibres or asbestos related pleural thickening. Your chest physician will be able to distinguish between pleural thickening and pleural plaques which can often be a controversial area of discussion.
CT Scan (computerised tomography)
This is a painless process whereby a series of x-rays are taken to produce a 3D image.
Lung function tests (LFT)
Designed to measure the amount and rate of air you can breathe in and out and how well oxygen is delivered into the bloodstream. Routine lung function tests might include spirometry which involves blowing through a mouthpiece into a spirometer to measure how well you can inhale and exhale. You will be asked to use maximum effort in this test which could temporarily leave some people feeling tired and lightheaded.
Your lung volumes can be measured using similar equipment to a spirometer located within in a small glass sided area during which time you will have a small clip on your nose and a member of staff be on hand talking to you. This test is quite painless. A gas transfer test involves measuring the amount of oxygen your lungs pass into the bloodstream and is undertaken using a mouthpiece through which you will be asked to fill your lungs with a harmless gas for a few seconds before exhaling.
Your lung function test will help to identify the nature of any abnormality within the lung regardless of any visible symptoms and can assist in confirming a clinical diagnosis. In conditions such as pleural thickening/scarring, asbestosis, trapped lung, pleural effusions and interstitial lung disease one would anticipate confirmation of a restrictive lung pattern which indicates a reduced lung volume. An obstructive lung pattern with normal or increased lung capacity is likely to be associated to asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Pleural thickening is incurable and whilst the damage is irreversible it does not usually present severe symptoms. There are some treatment options available which can help to reduce the symptoms and improve a quality of life;
This involves a programme of physical exercise and health education, normally conducted within small groups, designed to help people understand more about their condition and manage their breathlessness. The programme helps to improve general strength and fitness which can lead to increased confidence and more efficient breathing.
This is seldom performed but could be a consideration is instances were breathlessness is severe and might involve removing all or some of the affected pleura.
In severe cases of pleural thickening which involve a lack of oxygen in the blood it might be necessary using an oxygen concentrator to provide an oxygen-rich supply of air using a mask or small tube fed into the nostrils. It is possible to leave the home with the aid of a portable oxygen tank and mask. Smoking must be avoided during oxygen therapy on account the high concentration of oxygen is highly flammable.
Smoking can lead to reduced lung function and lead to the development of a more serious lung disease including lung cancer.
Whilst regarded as an incurable condition the outlook for most can be optimistic given symptoms are not usually severe. In severe cases surgery can be performed to remove areas of thickened pleura but generally maintaining an active lifestyle and avoiding smoking is sufficient to promote a normal healthy lifestyle and retain as much lung function as possible. Pulmonary rehabilitation might also help in offering a programme of exercise and education.
The existence of pleural thickening increases the risk of developing lung cancer or mesothelioma.
You should remain positive throughout any treatments or investigation and contact us without further delay so we might understand more about your situation which will help us to assess your eligibility to compensation and benefits.
Your solicitors can deal with your enquiry even if you were employed or exposed to asbestos in England, Ireland or Wales
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