What are pleural plaques?
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. The two layers are normally in contact and secrete a small amount of fluid.
Pleural plaques more commonly occur on the outer pleura on the lower chest wall or diaphragm, though occasionally are also found on the inner pleura.
They are caused by exposure to asbestos but do not usually develop until some 20 – 40 years after first exposure.
What are the symptoms of pleural plaques?
In almost all cases there are no symptoms and they cause no problems to long term health. They simply indicate that there has been exposure to asbestos.
How are they diagnosed?
Generally pleural plaques are diagnosed when seen on a chest x-ray or scan.
There is no necessity to screen for pleural plaques as they present no risk to health.
What is the prognosis?
The prognosis for pleural plaques alone is extremely good. A diagnosis of pleural plaques does not mean that a more serious disease will develop.
While exposure to asbestos does mean that there is a risk of developing serious lung conditions such as mesothelioma, lung cancer or asbestosis the scientific evidence is that having pleural plaques does not increase that risk and nor do pleural plaques develop into those more serious conditions.
Is there treatment for pleural plaques?
There is no treatment for pleural plaques as it is not required.
However if there has been exposure to asbestos and symptoms of breathlessness, a cough lasting longer than 3 weeks or coughing up blood appear then a doctor should be consulted. These are not symptoms resulting from the pleural plaques but may indicate a more serious condition for which treatment is needed.
Pleural plaques compensation
It is no longer possible for an individual who has pleural plaques alone to claim compensation in England and Wales. This is because although having pleural plaques indicates exposure to asbestos there are no symptoms, therefore the Courts do not recognise this as an injury for which compensation is payable.
Unfortunately some individuals who have pleural plaques will develop a more serious asbestos related condition as a result of their exposure. At the National Asbestos Helpline we keep a register of everyone with pleural plaques who has contacted us for advice. We keep in touch periodically and by way of a newsletter, so that if someone does go on to suffer a more serious condition we are there to help.
In Scotland and Northern Ireland it is possible to claim compensation for pleural plaques so legal advice should be sought.