Pulmonary hypertension refers to high blood pressure in the arteries within the lungs. There are various causes of high blood pressure including age, gender, diet, and conditions such as heart disease, which can cause blood from the heart to back up into the lungs increasing pressure in the pulmonary arteries. This particular form of high blood pressure makes the right side of the heart work harder than normal keeping blood flow to the lungs up to speed.
A laboratory study using amosite asbestos dust induced pulmonary hypertension in test animals over a three to six month period, as well as lowered oxygenation capacity and emphysema. The results suggest that this high blood pressure condition in the lungs can be a direct result of asbestos exposure as well as a side effect of advanced malignant mesothelioma. Asbestos-linked pulmonary hypertension occurs when asbestos fibers put the entire pulmonary system into dysfunction, causing the blood vessels of the lungs to narrow, thus increasing resistance of blood flow through the pulmonary artery. Once the blood flow to the lungs is decreased, cardiovascular effects such as high blood pressure begin to develop.
Risk of Pulmonary Hypertension
Those who have had frequent exposure to high levels of asbestos, especially construction workers, and employees in the power generation plants and refineries, chemical plants and steel mills operating in the late 20th century have an increased chance of developing pulmonary hypertension. The longer that the health crisis brought on by asbestos exposure goes on, the more we learn about the impact that this industrial carcinogen can have. For example there is some evidence suggesting that gastrointestinal and colorectal cancer may be associated with asbestos exposure, although the evidence remains inconclusive. With regard to pulmonary hypertension however, the evidence connecting inhaled asbestos fibers and narrowing of the lung's arteries is clear.
Symptoms of Pulmonary Hypertension
There are typically no symptoms in the early stage of asbestos-related pulmonary hypertension. As the condition advances, patients may suffer common symptoms of high blood pressure:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
Pulmonary hypertension has not received a lot of attention as a primary asbestos related health problem, probably because it can be interpreted as secondary to other conditions such as asbestosis or mesothelioma. But it is another example of the damage that industrial exposure to this potent carcinogen can do.
- Pulmonary Hypertension Induced by Amosite Asbestos, Lung, Wright et al, 1990, http://www.springerlink.com/content/g5x4578hj4547004/
- Asbestos Health Effects, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/asbestos/asbestos/health_effects/