Asbestosis often incorrectly diagnosed as pulmonary hypertension

By Shaniqua Williams

Posted on December 11th, 2020

Many of the early symptoms of asbestosis, such as shortness of breath during routine activity, cough, chest pain, and tiredness, are often associated with another progressive lung condition in which there is increased pressure in the pulmonary arteries that travel from the heart to the lungs, known as pulmonary hypertension.

Those who have had frequent exposure to high levels of asbestos, especially construction workers, and employees in oil refineries, steel mills, power plants, and other industrial facilities, operating in the late 20th century have an increased risk of developing chronic lung diseases caused by scarring of lung tissue. Long-term unsafe exposure to asbestos fibers may cause asbestosis, one of over 200 types of pulmonary fibrosis which is also classified as interstitial lung disease.

Lung tissue scarring caused by asbestos fibers wrongly attributed to pulmonary hypertension

The inflammation and scarring due to the inhalation and accumulation of asbestos fibers in the lungs can make it difficult to breathe and shortness of breath can be one of the first signs of an asbestos-related pulmonary condition. After shortness of breath comes fatigue or general weakness.

However, these symptoms can be mistaken as signs of other health conditions that occur when the blood vessels in the alveoli are extremely damaged by scarring, such as pulmonary hypertension. Therefore, asbestosis, which is a more severe illness that may even develop into lung cancer and mesothelioma in the future, may get misdiagnosed as pulmonary hypertension.

Case study - Herbert C. Huntsville, AL

For years I saw many lung specialists for my breathing problems and had many different tests. One day, after a light bike ride, it hurt to breathe so much I thought I was having a heart attack. When the pulmonologist told my daughter and me that scar tissue forming in my lungs is the cause and that I have pulmonary hypertension, it was a big shock to me. It hit me very hard, especially when in October that same year I have rushed to the hospital again and was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. I was so scared I thought my days are numbered.

I now have asbestosis, bronchiectasis, pulmonary hypertension, and remnants of blood clots left. I also had pneumonia last year. My pulmonary fibrosis is no longer idiopathic because they know the cause as to why I have it - the asbestosis caused the inflammation and scarring of the lungs. I worked as a warehouseman at the Anniston Army Depot - a large Army facility located in Madison County, Alabama, between 1961 and 1990. Due to the nature of my work, I faced an exceedingly high risk of asbestos exposure. My role included loading and unloading products containing asbestos or removing the debris produced by deteriorating asbestos materials.

Misdiagnosis is more likely to happen when physicians are unaware of their patient's history of asbestos use

The diagnosis of asbestosis is based upon a thorough clinical evaluation, characteristic symptoms, and physical findings, a detailed patient medical history, occupational history, and chest X-ray that shows scarring of the lung tissues. This information, along with pulmonary function tests, helps your doctor determine how well the lungs are working and how severe your condition is. When you have an accurate diagnosis made in a timely manner, your doctor may be able to put a treatment plan in place that can:

  • ease your pain and make it easier to breathe
  • slow the progression of your condition
  • reduce the risk of complications
  • improve your quality of life

If a misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose occurs, the patient's condition can significantly worsen. Second opinions let you have a more accurate diagnosis of your condition and thereby recover the rightful amount of financial compensation from asbestos trust funds, as they base the compensation they pay out primarily on the severity of your illness. For this reason, we strongly encourage you to seek the opinion of at least two specialists before filing a claim for compensation.

Pulmonary hypertension can be also interpreted as secondary to asbestosis

In a laboratory study on the effects of the amosite asbestos dust on the pulmonary vascular system, a team of researchers instilled 5 mg amosite asbestos intratracheally into guinea pigs over a three to six month period. The results suggested that pulmonary hypertension can be a common, yet serious symptom of asbestosis.

Asbestos fibers embedded in lung tissue over time may irritate the lungs and cause the tissues to scar. Excess scar tissue makes the arteries have to work harder to pump blood from the heart to the lungs. Since this added pressure makes the heart work harder, asbestosis patients can be at high risk for pulmonary hypertension.

We provide compassionate and skilled assistance to people who suffer from past exposure to asbestos

If you have recently received a diagnosis of an asbestos-related pulmonary condition, you may be devastated and unsure of how to proceed. If the disease was caused due to asbestos exposure at a workplace you have legal rights and you can benefit from a confidential and completely free of charge consultation with one of our legal experts about filing a claim.

If successful, a claim might help to provide compensation for both past and future medical expenses, emotional distress, and pain and suffering. Get in touch with us today and we will offer you qualified assistance that focuses on obtaining the financial compensation you deserve.