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What You Need to Know about Emphysema Misdiagnosis and Asbestos-related Diseases

By Michael Bartlett

Posted on January 14th, 2019

Asbestos-related or asbestos-induced diseases mainly occur in the thoracic region and include asbestosis, pleural effusion, pleural plaques, diffuse pleural thickening, malignant mesothelioma, and bronchogenic carcinoma.

Asbestos-related cancers are complex because of which the path to a mesothelioma diagnosis is often unclear. Generally, patients with asbestos-related respiratory diseases remain asymptomatic until the disease has reached a moderately advanced stage. For instance, pleural plaques do not cause any symptoms. Asbestos-related pleural effusion or pericarditis is usually asymptomatic but can give rise to pleuritic chest pain. However, every case is unique and most early symptoms of pleural mesothelioma tend to mimic those of several less serious ailments such as asthma, tuberculosis, and chronic bronchitis and emphysema together referred as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). As a result, the early signs of asbestos-related diseases often go unnoticed or misread. This, in fact, will delay the whole process of right diagnosis and subsequent treatment planning.

Initial Stages of Pleural Mesothelioma May Be Misdiagnosed as Emphysema

Pleural mesothelioma is cancer that develops in the cells of the lining surrounding the lungs. The initial symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include chest discomfort, shortness of breath, and a persistent cough. By virtue of similar signs and symptoms, patients in the early stages of pleural mesothelioma often receive a diagnosis of emphysema, bronchitis or other bronchial infections. Only at a later stage do they learn about the much more serious disease they have had all along.

Surprisingly, COPD is most commonly misdiagnosed and according to the estimates from Medical News Today, greater than 40% of patients who have been diagnosed and treated for COPD do not really have the disease.

Lung Cancer May Be Misdiagnosed as Emphysema

Lung cancer in its early stages is difficult to be diagnosed correctly because of lack of symptoms altogether or the presence of symptoms that cause confusion with other diseases such as COPD, pneumonia, and asthma. Additionally, in some cases, lung cancer and one of these diseases may coexist leading to difficulty in deriving an accurate diagnosis. Misdiagnosis is quite unfortunate as it may worsen the prognosis due to lack of appropriate treatment at the time when the illness is curable.

Asbestosis May Me Misdiagnosed as Emphysema

Most of the patients who have been heavily exposed to asbestos in the past are now aged between 65 and 85 years. The people of this age-group are at an increased risk of developing other respiratory problems such as COPD, which causes changes in pulmonary functions that are hard to distinguish from those that arise because of asbestosis. Hence, asbestosis could be misdiagnosed as emphysema in the elderly.

Does Emphysema Develop due to Asbestos Exposure?

Emphysema, a form of COPD is usually associated with smoking. Asbestos exposure may exacerbate certain negative symptoms of emphysema, but there is no scientific proof to conclude that asbestos exposure definitely causes emphysema. However, there has been some research that does suggest a connection between asbestos exposure and emphysema. Here is a list of evidence:

  • A study of high-resolution CT scans of patients with asbestosis revealed that about 10-36% of the patients had emphysema. This suggests that patients with asbestosis are more likely to develop emphysema.
  • A study among Finnish construction workers established that emphysema is more common among workers heavily exposed to asbestos.

The Importance of a Second Opinion

A second opinion from a specialist in asbestos-related diseases is vital as it plays a significant role in deriving the most accurate diagnosis of your condition and the appropriate treatment strategy. In addition, getting a correct diagnosis will help you recover the right amount of compensation that you deserve.

If you have been diagnosed with emphysema, a form of the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which can be linked to asbestos exposure at the workplace, our experienced asbestos lawyers will evaluate your case and see if you can pursue an asbestos lawsuit to recover a good amount of financial compensation.
Our standard fee is a 40% contingency fee. That means we only collect the fee once we are able to collect settlements or claims for you. If we do not collect anything, you are not out any money out of pocket.