Asbestos Disease: Pleural Thickening


Pleural thickening ( – a condition which is also known as diffuse pleural thickening or DPT – is a type of lung disease caused by asbestos exposure in most cases. In fact, pleural thickening is one of the most common asbestos exposure diseases.

Many patients with a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis are also diagnosed with other conditions and diseases, such as pleural thickening, which may be associated with symptoms such as pain and difficulty breathing.

In a study on asbestos exposure, pleural thickening occurred in about 13% of people. The condition arose anywhere from 1 to 34 years after the asbestos exposure incident.

Notably, it has been reported that people may develop pleural thickening in as little as one year after exposure to asbestos, but they may not experience any symptoms during the early stages of this condition. It can take as long as 15 or even 20 years before pleural thickening symptoms are noticeable.

What is Pleural Thickening and How Does it Result from Asbestos Exposure?

Diffuse pleural thickening or DPT involves scarring of the pleura, a two-layer membrane that lines the inside of your chest, enclosing the lungs. There is a tiny fluid-filled space between the two membranes. As you breathe, the two layers of the pleura slide past each other, allowing for a smooth breath.

In DPT, patients who’ve experienced asbestos exposure have scarring on the pleura membranes. The asbestos fibers are inhaled into the lungs and the mineral particles become embedded in the pleural membranes. The asbestos fibers irritate the lungs and pleura, resulting in damage and inflammation. The body produces fibrous scar tissue in response to this damage.

This scarring causes the normally thin and smooth membranes to become thick and rough. The two layers of scarred pleura tissue can no longer glide past each other as you breathe in and out, and this results in pain and difficulty breathing.

Over time, pleural thickening becomes worse and worse, resulting in more difficulty breathing over time.

Pleurisy Causes and Symptoms

While pleural thickening is a common symptom of asbestos exposure, it can occur as a result of other conditions as well, including:

  • pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the artery leading to the lungs);
  •  hemothorax (when blood accumulates between the two layers of the pleura membrane);
  • empyema (when pus and infection fills the space between the two pleura membranes); and
  •  fibrinous pleuritis (a form of pleural inflammation).

It’s important to note that pleural thickening is different from pleural plaques, which involve the growth of calcification patches on the pleura membrane(s).

Pleural thickening is scarring that happens more uniformly, while pleural plaques are isolated patches, so to speak. As such, pleural thickening has a much more significant impact on the patient and their quality of life. Pleural thickening symptoms are minimal at first, but over time, the scarring worsens and this causes pain as the individual breathes in and out. In addition to chest pain, pleural thickening symptoms can also include a feeling of breathlessness.

Many patients with pleural thickening experience restrictive lung disease, which is a condition whereby the lungs cannot fully inflate. The thick, scarred pleural membranes can create an inward pressure on the lungs, essentially squeezing the lung tissue. This problem is exacerbated in cases where there is an excess accumulation of fluid between the two pleural membranes, a condition called pleural effusion.

Mesothelioma patients can experience difficulty breathing and chest pain from their mesothelioma lung cancer as well, so this is a condition that can make a bad situation even worse.

A pleural thickening diagnosis is typically made following x-rays and other chest scans, including PET scans and CT scans. Both of these chest scans are often used to diagnose mesothelioma as well.

More info about Causes of Pleural Thickening are here

Pleural Thickening Treatments and Prognosis

There is no cure for pleural thickening. The scarring is permanent.

But there are some treatments for pleural thickening, which focus primarily on easing the symptoms and effects of the lung scarring. Common therapies include steroids, antibiotics, pain medications and bronchodilators to make it easier for patients to breathe.

The pleural thickening prognosis varies according to the severity of the condition and whether it’s present alongside another condition, such as mesothelioma lung cancer. Pleural thickening has been associated with restrictive lung disease, which can result in respiratory failure in extreme cases.

Help for Mesothelioma Patients With Pleural Thickening

Mesothelioma lung cancer patients often suffer from secondary conditions and diseases like pleural thickening, which can complicate treatment and adversely impact quality of life.

The caring and compassionate team here at MesoWatch is committed to helping mesothelioma patients and others who’ve been impacted by asbestos exposure.

At MesoWatch, we understand how frightening a mesothelioma or other asbestos disease diagnosis can be. There’s worry not only concerning your health, but your future, your finances and your family as well.

MesoWatch has a knowledgeable team that can lead you to the resources you need during this difficult time.


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