What Causes Thickening of the Lungs?

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Thickening of the lungs, also called pleural thickening, is an asbestos-related health problem that forms when asbestos fibers cause lung scarring, which causes the lung lining to thicken. The condition is incurable, but some treatments can improve symptoms.

Lung thickening can also be called diffuse pleural thickening or DPT. It is usually caused by exposure to asbestos, but it also can form from other health problems, like infection and different lung diseases. Lung thickening is not thought to be fatal on its own. But the condition could be a symptom of more severe disease, such as pleural mesothelioma. (Mesothelioma.com)

If you have been diagnosed with lung thickening, this page has critical information for you to know.

Exposure to Asbestos and Thickening of the Lungs

Lung thickening forms in the visceral pleura, which is the membrane that surrounds the lungs. This problem is caused by lung inflammation. The inflammation can stem from many health problems, such as another disease, but it is often associated with long-term exposure to asbestos. Several clinical studies have concluded that 5-13% of asbestos workers developed lung thickening from two to 34 years after asbestos exposure.

When the worker is exposed, tiny asbestos fibers can be ingested or inhaled and get trapped in the pleura. The asbestos fibers irritate the lining of the lungs, which leads to chronic inflammation. Over the years, inflammation can cause major lung scarring. The growing scar tissue may get so thick that the lungs cannot properly function. Some victims cannot fully expand their lungs as they inhale.

Lung thickening usually is considered to be a disease caused by asbestos exposure. But it also can develop from other health conditions.

Some other causes of lung thickening are:

  • Bacterial pneumonia
  • Emphysema
  • Hemothorax, or blood in the pleural cavity
  • Infection, such as tuberculosis
  • Chest or ribs injury
  • Lung contusions
  • Pleural effusion
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Malignant or benign tumors

How to Diagnose Lung Thickening Symptoms

Like other diseases caused by asbestos, it can take more than 10 years for lung thickening to form and show symptoms. Clinical researchers have determined the latency period for lung thickening to be 10 to 20 years. (Mesothelioma.net)

Lung thickening is thought to be a progressive disease. It means symptoms can get worse over weeks and months. In the early stages, lung thickening is hard to detect, and the patient may not have any symptoms. Symptoms and diagnosis may be hard to determine if the thickening is from another health problem. See stage 4 mesothelioma cancer near death.

Diagnosing lung thickening is usually done with CT scans or X-rays. X-rays may show a vague shadow, but a CT scan can reveal the unusual pleural thickening, even at an earlier stage where scar tissue is a mere few millimeters thick. MRI and PET scans could be needed to distinguish lung thickening from other forms of lung disease. If your doctor thinks your lung thickening is from cancer, he may order additional tests.

One of the challenges with pleural thickening is telling the difference between benign pleural thickening and malignant mesothelioma is difficult. Your doctor may want to do a CT scan and then a PET scan to see if the thickening is caused by cancer. These scans may not be enough for a precise diagnosis, but it can determine if a biopsy is needed. If pleural thickening is more than a centimeter or there are nodules in the lung tissue, these signs suggest the thickening is caused by cancer.

Not to Be Confused with Pleural Plaques

Lung thickening may be confused with another severe health condition called pleural plaques. Although both conditions can develop at once in the body, they are distinct diseases.

Lung thickening starts in the visceral pleura, the membrane that encloses the surface of both lungs. Pleural plaques form in the parietal pleura. This is the lungs’ outer membrane that connects to your chest cavity. Telling the difference between these diseases is key for you to get the best treatment.

How to Treat Lung Thickening

It is impossible to reverse the damage caused by lung thickening. Fortunately, this condition by itself is not thought to be life-threatening. The progression and symptoms can be effectively treated in many cases.

Doctors will usually recommend lung function tests regularly to check for lung thickening. These tests can show how well your lungs are working and can be an effective way to check for progression of the disease. Physicians may test the volume of your lungs and the diffusing capacity. With these results, your physician can make a recommendation to boost your lung function and handle symptoms.

Some clinical studies have shown that pulmonary rehabilitation can improve your lung thickening symptoms and quality of life quality. This program can help your nutrition and diet changes, recommendations for exercise, breathing techniques, and ways to save your energy. A team of medical specialists can help you develop an individualized treatment plan based on your personal health condition.

But patients should keep in mind that lung thickening can be a symptom of another disease related to asbestos exposure that may not have been noticed after the initial diagnosis. If the lung thickening is occurring with pleural effusions or asbestosis, the conditions may be manageable with several treatments. The prognosis could be favorable.

Pain medication is often prescribed to take out some of the scar tissue that restricts breathing. But this procedure is unusual, mainly if the thickening is caused by other asbestos diseases, such as mesothelioma. Not many mesothelioma patients are good candidates for surgery, but for the ones who are, surgery can provide a welcome relief from lung thickening symptoms.

The prognosis for Thickening of the Lungs

The prognosis for the thickening of the lungs depends on several things. If the condition causing the thickening is treatable, the prognosis is better. If the underlying cause of the thickening is mesothelioma, your prognosis is poor. Mesothelioma is difficult to treat and almost incurable. Treatments in the early stages could be successful at easing symptoms and slowing the progression of damage to the lung lining. But reversing the damage is impossible.

Remember that lung thickening by itself is not enough to confirm that you have malignant mesothelioma. Patients should carefully note any related symptoms they have and talk to their doctor about them.

References

  • Pleural Thickening. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mesothelioma.com/asbestos-cancer/pleural-thickening/
  • Pleural Thickening. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://mesothelioma.net/pleural-thickening/
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