What is diffuse pleural thickening?

Posted: 17th Mar 20 8:00 AM

Asbestos diseases take many years to develop after initial exposure to asbestos dust and fibres. Diffuse pleural thickening is one such condition.

Diffuse pleural thickening is extensive and widespread calcification (the ‘thickening’) of your lungs. If found across both lungs, it is known as ‘bilateral’ diffuse pleural thickening.

What is pleural thickening?

Pleural thickening can develop as a result of inhaling asbestos dust and fibres and affects the pleura of your lungs.

The pleura is a protective membrane that surrounds your lungs and ribcage and consists of two layers of tissue. Between these two layers is a small amount of fluid, allowing ease of movement while breathing and moving.

If the pleura is damaged, it can become calcified or scarred which can restrict movement and cause respiratory problems. If the pleura thickens enough to cause these respiratory problems, it can be diagnosed as pleural thickening.

For free legal advice call the National Asbestos Helpline on Freephone 0800 043 6635 or contact us online and we will call you.

When the thickening and scarring are extensive, it can be called diffuse pleural thickening.

Both pleural thickening and diffuse pleural thickening can develop on either one of your lungs, called unilateral pleural thickening, or across both of your lungs, where it is called bilateral pleural thickening.

What are the symptoms of diffuse pleural thickening?

As mentioned above, diffuse pleural thickening develops when there is extensive calcification of the pleura, which can restrict movement and cause respiratory problems.

Symptoms of diffuse pleural thickening vary from person to person and can range anywhere between moderate and severe. Depending on the progression of the disease and the extent of the damage to your lung, it can be a debilitating condition and deteriorate your quality of life.

The symptoms of diffuse pleural thickening are:

  • Breathlessness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Persistent cough
  • Tiredness and fatigue

If you suffer from any of these symptoms, let your doctor know. It is important to also tell them about any exposure to asbestos you may have had through your working life.

What causes diffuse pleural thickening?

Pleural thickening and diffuse pleural thickening both have a number of causes from a variety of circumstances. These include:

  • Exposure to asbestos
  • Injury to the ribs (e.g. blunt trauma or breaks)
  • Chemotherapy
  • Pleural effusion
  • Emphysema
  • Tumours (either benign or malignant)
  • Rheumatoid lung disease
  • Lung infection
  • Certain drugs and medication
  • Bacterial pneumonia

If you are diagnosed with pleural thickening, or your doctor suspects you might have the disease, make sure to tell them about any previous exposure to asbestos through your working life. People who worked in industries where asbestos was regularly used are at a higher risk of developing pleural thickening.

It is also possible to develop pleural thickening if you lived with someone who worked with asbestos and brought the microscopic fibres home with them on their clothes and/or tools.

How does asbestos exposure lead to diffuse pleural thickening?

Pleural thickening develops over a period of many years after initial exposure to asbestos. This latency period is usually between 10 and 50 years.

When the microscopic asbestos fibres enter your lungs while you breathe they can become lodged in your lung tissue.

How does asbestos exposure lead to pleural thickening?

Movement of your lungs while you breathe can cause the barbed asbestos fibres to bury themselves further into the lungs and through to your pleura, tearing the soft tissue, causing damage and potential scarring and calcification.

Where this scarring occurs in small, singular areas it can develop into asbestos-related pleural plaques; this is a symptomless condition, causing no disability or respiratory problems.

Where the scarring is more widespread and the calcification is thicker, this can be diagnosed as pleural thickening. Pleural thickening has the potential to cause restricted movement of your lungs, which can lead to breathing problems such as shortness of breath and breathlessness.

If the scarring and thickening have become extensive throughout your lung/s, it could be diagnosed as diffuse pleural thickening. Restricted movement of your lungs is more noticeable when you breathe and symptoms are more severe. You might suffer from chest pains and a persistent cough, as well as suffer from tiredness and fatigue.

How is diffuse pleural thickening diagnosed?

There are a number of ways that doctors can diagnose diffuse pleural thickening.

On a scan of the chest, diffuse pleural thickening appears as a shadow on the lungs and pleura.

The disease is usually diagnosed using a chest X-Ray, but diagnosis from a CT scan is often more reliable.

Many consultants and medical experts will only support a compensation claim for pleural thickening if a scan of your lungs shows a ‘blunting of the costophrenic angle’. The costophrenic angle is a small gap beneath the lowest point of the lung, where your diaphragm meets the base of your ribs. Excess fluid from pleural effusions caused by diffuse pleural thickening builds up in this gap, pushing your lung up and causing the ‘blunting’ of the costophrenic angle.

How is diffuse pleural thickening diagnosed?

Can I get compensation for diffuse pleural thickening?

If you have been diagnosed with diffuse pleural thickening caused by exposure to asbestos dust and fibres, you may be entitled to pursue a claim for compensation.

You should always seek advice from a specialist asbestos and industrial disease lawyer about your eligibility and making a claim.

The amount of money you receive for compensation depends on a number of different factors, which should be discussed in detail with your lawyer. The lawyers you choose should advise you on what could affect your claim and how much they expect you to receive as compensation. This usually can’t be estimated immediately, as investigations into your circumstances will need to take place.

Our expert legal team from Birchall Blackburn Law are specialist asbestos and industrial disease solicitors. They work tirelessly to ensure you receive what you are owed in a timely and professional manner.

For free legal advice call the National Asbestos Helpline on Freephone 0800 043 6635 or contact us online and we will call you.

What if someone has died from diffuse pleural thickening?

If you believe that a relative has died from an asbestos-related disease such as diffuse pleural thickening, mesothelioma, asbestosis or asbestos-related lung cancer, it may still be possible to pursue a claim for compensation.

How much will it cost me to pursue a claim?

All services and support offered by the National Asbestos Helpline are completely free.

If you are eligible for compensation, our legal team from Birchall Blackburn Law work on a ‘No Win, No Fee’ basis. Under this agreement, you do not pay for anything if your claim fails, and any payment, if your claim is successful, is only taken from part of your compensation, meaning you will never be out of pocket.

Is there a time limit for making a diffuse pleural thickening claim?

Asbestos, industrial disease and other personal injury claims must be made within three years from the date of your diagnosis.

Asbestos diseases often take several decades to develop. At the National Asbestos Helpline, we can help you act against your former employer even if you haven’t worked there for many years, or they have ceased trading.

We encourage anyone to contact us as soon as they are diagnosed, even if you are not sure when or where you were exposed to asbestos – we can help you find out where you were exposed and help to make a claim against your employer.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with diffuse pleural thickening or another asbestos-related disease, get in touch with the National Asbestos Helpline today. Call us on Freephone 0800 043 6635 or send an email with your details to enquiries@nationalasbestos.co.uk and we will call you back.

Further reading

How long does it take to develop an asbestos-related disease?

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

What is the asbestos compensation claims process?

How can compensation for asbestos disease help?

Is there a time limit on asbestos compensation claims?

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