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Pleural Thickening Diagnosis

Pleural thickening is caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibres and a sufferer will undergo X-rays and CT Scans to determine whether this asbestos related condition is pleural thickening (benign) or mesothelioma (malignant).

The condition may produce no obvious symptoms and therefore is detected and subsequently diagnosed only if an X Ray is being performed for another reason. On the other-hand, some cases of pleural thickening are severe and widespread and therefore the ability for the lungs to expand is extremely restricted and this then causes shortness of breath.

Pleural thickening will usually be diagnosed based on the following findings:

  • An exposure to asbestos;
  • X Ray finding opaque masses along the lung walls;
  • Impairment of the lung function.

To be diagnosed with pleural thickening the sufferer will usually attend upon their GP who will take their medical history and carrying out a physical examination.  The doctor will ask about any medical conditions/problems you currently are suffering with, or have done in the past as bacterial infection and tuberculosis can cause pleural thickening.  The doctor will also discuss your occupational history with you, and more specifically, if you have ever worked with asbestos and your levels of exposure.

Following the physical examination and depending upon its outcome and the findings from the medical history, your GP may request one or more of the following tests:

  • X-Ray of the Chest and/or Abdomen
  • CT Scan
  • Lung Function Tests

The treating doctor will want to distinguish between diffuse pleural thickening and localised pleural plaques.  If the areas of the thickening are not widespread but rather confined to small area and the person who has them is generally symptomless then they will be diagnosed with pleural plaques. 

However, if the thickening is more widespread and covers a larger are and therefore making breathing difficult, the person suffering with this will be diagnosed with pleural thickening.

Pleural thickening can occur in either one lung (unilateral) or both lungs (diffuse bilateral).

When an X Ray is preformed pleural thickening will be seen at the edges of the lung where the pleura runs in the same direction to the X Ray beam.

When diagnosing pleural thickening lung function tests may be used to assess the disability of person and measure how effective their lungs work.  Lung functions tests will measure:

  • how much air you can take into your lungs and when compared with people of the same ages, height, sex etc the doctor can assess if you are within the normal range
  • how much air you can blow out of your lungs and how fast you can do it
  • how well your lungs deliver oxygen to your blood
  • the strength of your breathing muscles

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