Asbestos fibers can contribute to an assortment of illnesses that while not malignant, can have significant impact on your health. Some of them can be harbingers for serious problems yet to develop. Asbestos fibers usually enter the body through the lungs, inhaled unknowingly when they have been released by a deteriorating or torn asbestos product. They don't dissolve and the body cannot shed them naturally. They're tough, resilient and they stay in the tissues where they lodge forever. If they don't embed themselves in some portion of the mesothelium and cause malignant mesothelioma, they may be causing harm elsewhere.
It is believed that the inhaled asbestos fibers which cause pleural mesothelioma work their way through the lung wall to the outer lining, which is the pleura. Fibers that lodge in the lung and stay there can cause the development of asbestosis. This disease is a gradual scarring of the lung tissue that causes it to harden and become fibrous, losing its flexibility and causing a significant reduction in the ability of the lung to absorb oxygen. The result is shortness of breath, difficulty with physical exercise and intermittent chest pain. Asbestosis can also play a role in the development of pulmonary hypertension, another problematic symptom most often associated with heart disease.
Pleural Plaques from Asbestos Exposure
Pleural plaques are benign growths that develop on the surface of the pleura – either the parietal pleura, which is the membrane that lines the chest wall, or the visceral pleura – the membrane that wraps around the lungs. These benign growths are small and diffuse, similar to the type of tumor most often associated with mesothelioma. They are scattered across the surface of the pleura. Over time they will calcify and become hard, benign knots on the pleural surface. Sometimes there are no overt symptoms; sometimes they can impact breathing capacity. They are sometimes associated with the development of pleural effusion.
COPD from Asbestos
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is a double dose of misery that develops in the lungs and does not ever go away. It is primarily associated with smoking; COPD is a term for chronic bronchitis combined with emphysema. It is associated with smoking, but it is also a condition that asbestos in the lungs can contribute to. There is an epidemic of this disease in the U.S. with twelve million people having already been diagnosed with it and an estimated additional twelve million who have the disease but do not yet know it.
Pulmonary Hypertension and Asbestos
Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure in the arteries that connect the heart to the lungs. It can be caused by a blockage such as a clot or the growths associated with coronary artery disease. It can also be induced by inflammation caused by asbestos fibers that causes blood vessels to narrow, creating increased pressure in the major arteries. Inhaled asbestos fibers in one test induced profound pulmonary hypertension in lab animals in a matter of days.
This condition is the development of excess fluid in the area between the lungs and the chest wall, and/or the lungs and the diaphragm. It is a common symptom of mesothelioma, but it can also be caused by a variety of other abnormalities. A simple infection in the chest can bring on this condition, as can congestive heart failure, lung cancer, or Inflammation caused by pleural plaques or by benign pleural thickening that may be induced by the presence of asbestos fibers. Pleural effusion can cause substantial breathing discomfort as well as chest pain and tightening in the chest that reduces breathing capacity.
One of the early symptoms of malignant mesothelioma is thickening of the pleura as it becomes inflamed. The pleura can also thicken without the presence of malignant cells. Benign pleural thickening leads to hardening of the pleura and development of fibrous tissue that both stiffens and thickens the membrane. This condition can be brought on by infections within the pulmonary cavity or can be caused by asbestos fibers, or may be the result of other abnormalities.
- Asbestosis Symptoms, Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/asbestosis/DS00482/DSECTION=symptoms
- Asbestos Related Pleural Plaques and Lung Function, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Oliver et al, 1988, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3266060
- Understanding COPD, American Lung Association, http://www.lungusa.org/lung-disease/copd/about-copd/understanding-copd.html
- Pulmonary Hypertension Induced by Amosite Asbestos, Lung, Wright et al, September 1990, http://www.springerlink.com/content/g5x4578hj4547004/
- Pleural Effusion, Medline Plus, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000086.htm
- Asbestosis, Pleural Plaques and Diffuse Pleural Thickening: Three Distinct Benign Responses to Asbestos Exposure, European Respiratory Journal, http://www.ersj.org.uk/cgi/reprint/11/5/1021.pdf