Posted on November 25th, 2020
Pleural thickening is often a result of prolonged exposure to asbestos, with symptoms typically developing over 10 to 40 years later. Pleural thickening can be extremely worrying for victims of asbestos exposure who may then become susceptible to other asbestos-related illnesses, such as pleural mesothelioma or lung cancer.
People who worked in construction, maintenance, heavy industries, and certain branches of the military such as the Navy or Marines, were in contact with high concentrations of asbestos. As a result, former workers and veterans may need to be concerned about their health.
Veterans serving in the above-mentioned branches of the military or former workers of companies that are now known for manufacturing asbestos-containing products, as well as insulators, steel mill workers, mechanics, construction workers, and all other workers who would constantly come in contact with asbestos products, need to consult a doctor even before they show any symptoms of an asbestos-related disease, as it happens that very often these diseases can take up to 20 or more years from the time of exposure to develop and can remain asymptomatic for a long time.
Pleural thickening, also referred to as diffuse pleural thickening, occurs when the pleural membrane lining your lungs and chest wall, becomes thick and scarred. Pleural thickening is often a result of prolonged exposure to asbestos, with symptoms typically developing over 10 to 40 years later. When inhaled, the microscopic mineral fibers can become embedded in the pleura. There, the fibers can trigger an inflammatory response that causes the progressive build-up of fibrous scar tissue. Individuals with asbestos-related diseases such as pleural mesothelioma and lung cancer may also experience pleural thickening.
The condition may produce no obvious symptoms being frequently detected incidentally on chest radiographs. However, as the condition progresses, patients often experience chest pain and breathlessness, which is called dyspnea.
Later stages of pleural thickening may close off the space between the two layers of the pleura and encase the lung entirely, causing restrictive lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis, asthma, and emphysema.
Diffuse pleural thickening can usually be diagnosed based on the following findings:
A chest radiograph is the keystone of asbestos-related pulmonary conditions screening based on which further management is decided. Pleural thickening is usually first observed on a chest X-ray, as an irregular shadow of the pleura. CT scans can help detect the irregular thickness of the pleura, even at earlier stages where the scar tissue is only 1-2 millimeters in thickness.
Asbestos-related illnesses will not become apparent until many years after the exposure occurs. Further, it is often true that the early symptoms will be misdiagnosed and attributed to other less serious pulmonary conditions, which limits the number of treatment options that are available. The lung tissue directly beneath a pleural plaque often looks irregular on a CT image, and this plaque-related fibrosis is usually diagnosed as pleural thickening instead of asbestosis.
Having a correct diagnosis can help the patient slow down the progressive disease and prolong their life expectancy. It can also have an impact on the amount of compensation a claimant can recover from asbestos trust funds, as the sum of money victims of asbestos exposure are eligible for depends primarily on their diagnosis.
If a person who knows they have been occupationally exposed to asbestos manifests any symptoms of persistent cough, shortness of breath or chest pain should make an appointment with their doctor as soon as possible. The most specialized physician that can tell you if you have the fibers in your lungs is a B-reader - physician trained and certified in asbestos-related lung X-rays, by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Practically, a B-Reader looks for abnormalities or changes on the chest X-ray that can be attributable to the inhalation of asbestos fibers.