There are multiple portions of the lungs pleural plaques can form on, depending on where the inhaled asbestos fibers have mostly accumulated. Often developing on the parietal pleura, the layer of tissue inside the ribcage, they can also occur on the visceral pleura, which covers the lungs. The diaphragm can be affected by this condition, too. According to medical studies, asbestos fibers reach the pleural space via the lymphatic system. Over time, pleural plaques may calcify, but they rarely cause serious breathing problems. Calcification takes place in approximately 20% of people who suffer from pleural plaques.
Pleural thickening, another lung condition stemming from asbestos exposure, might develop as well in individuals with pleural plaques. This condition is more severe and might hinder the normal functioning of the lungs to a considerable extent. It is worthy of note that smoking increases the risk of developing diseases such as COPD and lung cancer in pleural plaques patients, so quitting is highly recommended.
Unlike the majority of diseases asbestos exposure causes, pleural plaques entail a good prognosis and require no treatment, as they are typically asymptomatic. In the vast majority of cases, pleural plaques are the consequence of inhaling asbestos fibers and their presence are a nearly certain indicator of past exposure. If a person with a history of occupational asbestos exposure and a diagnosis of pleural plaques experiences bothersome symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath, they are very likely to have developed a second, more serious lung disease.