What do I tell my GP if I am worried about asbestos exposure?

Posted: 15th Sep 17 11:56 AM

Whilst your GP will always be willing to note your exposure to asbestos, this information will not be of particular concern unless you are also displaying symptoms associated with asbestos related conditions.

Many people who have been exposed to asbestos will not go on to develop an asbestos related disease. If you have been exposed to asbestos dust and fibres but you do not have any of the symptoms listed below it is important for you to monitor your general health, especially any persistent change in your breathing.

Should you start to notice changes to your health and breathing, make an appointment with your GP and explain how you are being affected. For example, you might be breathless after doing tasks that you used to find easy, you may have a persistent cough that lasts for more than three weeks, or you may be tired more than usual.

Asbestos related lung diseases are not always easy to diagnose because the symptoms can come on gradually and many people initially put these changes down to old age. But if you know you have been exposed to airborne asbestos dust and fibres, you should be aware of the main symptoms and keep an eye on any changes.

What are the symptoms of an asbestos related lung disease?

Asbestos diseases – such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, pleural thickening and pleural plaques – take between 10 and 50 years to develop.

The symptoms of an asbestos related disease can include:

  • Feeling breathless
  • Chest pain
  • Persistent coughing
  • Weight loss
  • Tiredness
  • Heavy sweating
  • Loss of appetite

Remember that your GP is primarily interested in your symptoms. It is useful if you can illustrate how you have been affected by changes in your health. For example, were you previously able to manage the stairs in your home without any problems but you are now getting breathless? When did this start happening? Is it getting worse? Make a note of how your symptoms affect you in your day to day life and take this with you when you visit your GP.

Once you have explained your symptoms to your GP, remember to also mention that you have been exposed to asbestos in the past. Your GP should note this exposure on your medical records and it may help diagnose you.

What do I do if I have already been diagnosed with pleural plaques?

Pleural plaque is a benign asbestos related lung condition. It presents no health risk to you and you should not show any symptoms of a lung disease. In almost all cases the condition causes no breathing problems. Pleural plaques can be diagnosed following an x-ray or scan.

Pleural plaques are areas of scarring or calcification on the pleura. The pleura is a thin membrane inside the ribcage surrounding each lung. It consists of two layers. The inner layer, the visceral pleura, covers the lung and the outer layer, the parietal pleura, lines the ribcage and diaphragm.

While pleural plaque is a benign lung condition, it does indicate that you have asbestos fibres present in your lungs. Most people diagnosed with pleural plaques will not go on to develop a more serious asbestos related disease. However, there is a risk that a second asbestos related disease could develop and anyone diagnosed with pleural plaques should monitor their general health for symptoms of asbestos related lung disease.

If you do start to notice changes to your health or have concerns about breathlessness, fatigue, weight loss or any of the symptoms mentioned above then make an appointment with the GP and remind the doctor that you have been exposed to asbestos and that you have pleural plaques.

Can I claim benefits or compensation for pleural plaques?

The House of Lords in October 2007 decided that an individual who has pleural plaques alone cannot claim compensation in England and Wales. The decision was made on the grounds that pleural plaques has no symptoms and does not constitute an injury, therefore people with pleural plaques are not entitled to compensation. They court also ruled that a claim cannot be brought for anxiety caused by a diagnosis of pleural plaques.

However, the devolved Governments of Scotland and Northern Ireland reversed the House of Lords decision. This means that if you were exposed to asbestos in Scotland or Northern Ireland, or the company you worked for was registered in Scotland or Northern Ireland, and you have developed pleural plaques, you may be eligible for compensation.

What is the National Asbestos Helpline pleural plaques register?

The pleural plaques register is run by the National Asbestos Helpline and keeps members updated with general news about asbestos and of any changes in the law. This is done through a newsletter delivered three to four times a year. If you would like to be included on the register please call our dedicated helpline on freephone 0808 250 6786 or email enquiries@nationalasbestos.co.uk.