Pleural Diseases

Exposure to asbestos can lead to the development of several diseases that affect the pleura, a membrane that lines the lungs and chest. Pleural diseases, such as pleural effusions, pleural plaques, and pleural thickening, are often very severe, leading to debilitating symptoms.

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Asbestos Exposure and Pleural Diseases

Inhalation of asbestos fibers has been linked to many different kinds of respiratory problems. It can often take decades for these problems to show up, as long as 20 to 50 years or even longer.

Asbestos fibers lodge in the lower portions of the lungs, where they gradually irritate the pleura. Over time, this irritation can get so severe that it leads to scarring. Pleural diseases can then develop as a result.

Anyone who has been exposed to asbestos may be at risk for respiratory illnesses. The risk is higher for people who worked in certain trades, such as shipyard and railroad workers, veterans who served on U.S. Navy ships, construction workers, and many others.

Types of Asbestos-Related Pleural Diseases

When you breathe, your lungs move against your chest wall. The pleura, which covers the rib cage as well as your lungs, produces fluid that acts as a sort of lubricant.

As asbestos fibers continue to irritate the pleura, changes occur that make it harder for it to do its job. Pleural diseases are often the result.

Asbestos-related pleural diseases include:

  • Pleural effusion – This is an abnormal buildup of fluid in the area between the pleura and lung, also referred to as “water on the lungs.”
  • Pleural mesothelioma – This malignant cancer develops in the protective lining of the lungs and chest wall (pleura) before spreading throughout the body
  • Pleural plaques – A pleural plaque is a small, hard structure that forms in the pleura. It’s a sign of asbestos exposure.
  • Pleural thickening – Pleural thickening results from severe scarring of the pleura. It’s more widespread than the scarring associated with pleural plaques and leads to much more severe symptoms.
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Pleural Effusions

A pleural effusion, one of the more common consequences of prolonged asbestos exposure, occurs when too much fluid accumulates between the pleura and lungs.

In some instances, people with pleural effusions don’t have any symptoms. They only learn about their condition when they have a chest X-ray for another issue.

However, many people do experience symptoms, some of which include: 

  • A dry cough
  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain

If someone develops severe symptoms from pleural effusion, a thoracic surgeon may need to perform a procedure in which a small tube, known as a shunt, is inserted to drain excess fluid into the abdomen.

When a pleural effusion becomes severe, part of the lining may need to be removed, a procedure known as pleurectomy and decortication.

Pleural Mesothelioma

Affecting the lung lining and chest wall, pleural mesothelioma is often caused by inhaling tiny needle-like asbestos fibers that the body can’t get rid of by coughing, so they build up in your lungs.

Over time, the inhaled asbestos particles cause inflammation to the mesothelium of the lung (also called the pleura), causing the healthy cells to mutate into cancer cells over the next 20-50 years.

Pleural mesothelioma symptoms include:

  • Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever and sweating
  • Fluid buildup in the lungs (pleural effusions)
  • Frequent dry or painful coughing
  • Lumps of tissue under the skin around the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness across the chest
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Weakness and fatigue

Unfortunately, mesothelioma can be difficult to correctly diagnose, according to the American Cancer Society. The latency period of mesothelioma symptoms may cause confusion with physicians who have limited experience with this rare cancer.

Many of the initial symptoms of pleural mesothelioma, like shortness of breath, can be confused with other respiratory conditions, causing this disease to be misdiagnosed and further delaying treatment. In fact, one study found that 22.6% of pleural mesothelioma victims were initially misdiagnosed.

Because of this, you may want to consider seeking a second opinion from another medical specialist if you have any of the symptoms above and believe you may have been exposed to asbestos.

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Pleural Plaques

Asbestos fibers also commonly result in the development of pleural plaques, tiny structures with hard surfaces that form in the pleura.

The plaques will usually grow larger, and become harder depending on the person’s age and amount of asbestos exposure. In most cases, pleural plaques aren’t considered to be a serious problem. There is, however, some research that suggests the presence of pleural plaques could increase the risk of laryngeal cancer.

Pleural plaques will typically not lead to any symptoms, and many people can live with them for years without knowing they exist. This type of plaque can’t be removed.

Pleural Thickening

Pleural thickening is yet another condition that is caused by asbestos exposure. It’s similar to pleural plaques, but it’s much more extensive. Pleural thickening doesn’t just occur in spots — it can extend along the entire chest wall.

Symptoms of pleural thickening include:

  • Coughing
  • Trouble taking deep breaths
  • Fever
  • Pain while inhaling or exhaling
  • Fatigue

Symptoms typically don’t present themselves at first but worsen as years go by and can eventually lead to severe lung problems.

Treatment for pleural thickening will typically start with what is known as pulmonary rehabilitation. This usually includes recommendations on how to improve a patient’s quality of life, such as improving their diet, breathing exercises, and more. In some severe cases, a pleurectomy may be required.

Get Help Pursuing Asbestos-Related Pleural Disease Compensation

Asbestos exposure can lead to a variety of serious pleural diseases, including a rare cancer known as mesothelioma, which causes malignant tumors to form in the pleura.

Invasive treatments are often needed, such as extrapleural pneumonectomy. This form of thoracic surgery involves removing not only part of the pleura but also the lung and part of the diaphragm.

This kind of treatment is incredibly expensive — and affording treatment is not something you or your family should have to worry about during such a difficult time. Because manufacturers of asbestos-containing products may be responsible for your illness, you may be eligible to pursue financial compensation through legal action.

Sokolove Law has helped victims of asbestos-related diseases for decades. Our asbestos law firm has recovered more than $5 Billion on behalf of our clients and their families.

Get a free case evaluation today to see if our asbestos attorneys may be able to help you too.

Pleural Disease FAQs

What are pleural diseases?

Pleural diseases are often caused by asbestos exposure that can affect each cell of the pleura, the thin membranes that surround the lungs, as well as the chest cavity.

Examples of pleural diseases include pleural effusions, pleural mesothelioma, pleural plaques and pleural thickening.

What is pleura?

The pleura is a thin membrane that covers the lungs and chest cavity. It’s filled with fluid that helps the membrane glide smoothly as the lungs inhale and exhale.

Can asbestos cause pleural diseases?

When inhaled, asbestos fibers can lead to inflammation, scarring, and permanent lung damage. They can also cause pleural diseases like pleural effusions, pleural plaques, pleural thickening and mesothelioma, a form of cancer that’s nearly always fatal.

What is pleural effusion?

Pleural effusion is an accumulation of excess fluid between the layers of the pleura located near the lungs. As with other pleural diseases, pleural effusion develops after exposure to asbestos.

What are the signs and symptoms of pleural effusions?

Symptoms of pleural effusion include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • An inability to breathe unless standing or sitting up straight
  • Dry cough
  • Chest pain

Can pleural effusion be fatal?

When you inhale asbestos fibers, that can lead to the development of cancer in the pleura. If cancer spreads in the pleura, it can lead to the development of what is known as a malignant pleural effusion.

While a malignant effusion can be treated through surgery, it can be life threatening.

Is pleural thickening dangerous?

Pleural thickening, also caused by asbestos exposure, is a progressive disease. This means that symptoms become worse as time goes by. In its advanced stages, pleural thickening can be very serious and can lead to severe lung disease.

Author:Sokolove Law Team
Sokolove Law Team

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Last modified: August 20, 2021

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