What are the symptoms of pleural thickening?

Posted: 5th Jul 21 10:00 AM

Pleural thickening is an asbestos-related disease that can occur as a result of exposure to asbestos over an extended period of time.

In the majority of cases, pleural thickening has little or no impact on a person’s life span. The disease usually progresses slowly and in many cases remains stable, but there is no way of predicting how it will progress.

What is pleural thickening?

Pleural thickening refers to a thickening of the lining of the lungs, the pleura, which is a thin layer of membrane that covers the inside of the rib-cage as well as the outside of the lungs.

Diffuse pleural thickening (DPT) is diagnosed when the pleura thickens to the extent that it causes breathlessness. This condition is frequently, but not exclusively, caused by exposure to asbestos dust and fibres.

When pleural thickening is found across both lungs, it is referred to as bilateral pleural thickening.

Diffuse pleural thickening can be either bilateral or unilateral, affecting only one lung.

Pleural thickening symptoms

Under normal circumstances, the pleura allows the lungs to move smoothly while breathing.

When the lungs become calcified or scarred as a result of pleural thickening, the elasticity of the pleural membrane is reduced, which can result in impairment of lung function.

Symptoms of pleural thickening vary from person to person and depending on the progression of the disease it can be a debilitating condition which can substantially deteriorate the quality of life of the sufferer.

The main symptoms of pleural thickening present themselves as moderate to severe breathlessness and chest pains, which usually manifest after exertion.

Extensive pleural thickening can also result in a blunting or obliteration of the costophrenic angles – the area where the ribs meet the diaphragm.

What causes pleural thickening?

One of the main causes of pleural thickening is exposure to and the inhalation of asbestos dust and fibres.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was widely used in construction and other industries until the late 1990s. It was commonly used to insulate and fire proof buildings, particularly in ceiling tiles, pipe insulation, boilers and spray coatings used on ceilings and walls.

People who worked in industries where asbestos was regularly used are at a higher risk if developing pleural thickening. These jobs include, but are not limited to:

  • Carpenters and joiners
  • Heating and ventilation engineers
  • Pipe fitters
  • Painters and decorators
  • Shipwrights
  • Electricians and electrical fitters
  • Energy plant operatives
  • Railway engineers

It is also possible to develop pleural thickening if you lived with someone who worked with and was exposed to asbestos. This could have happened when asbestos fibres were carried home on clothing or tools and inhaled by others in the family. Some people who develop pleural thickening cannot remember coming into contact with asbestos and might not have been aware they were exposed to it at the time.

While exposure to asbestos is often the cause of pleural thickening, there are also other known causes, such as:

  • Pneumonia
  • Tuberculosis
  • Rheumatoid lung disease
  • Injury to the ribs, e.g. blunt trauma and breaks
  • Tumours (benign or malignant)
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiotherapy

It is very important to find out what has caused pleural thickening and to tell your doctor if you have ever had a history of exposure to asbestos.

If you or a loved one is ever diagnosed with pleural thickening or another asbestos-related disease, or have had past exposure to asbestos in your working life, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the National Asbestos Helpline. We’re here to help you with advice about your condition and how to cope with it, and can also advise on any benefits and/ or compensation you might be entitled to. Call us on Freephone 0800 043 6635, or email enquiries@nationalasbestos.co.uk.

Further reading

What are the symptoms of mesothelioma?

What is the difference between mesothelioma and asbestosis?

Emotional needs of people exposed to asbestos revealed by study

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