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Pleural thickening

What is it?

Pleural thickening, also known as diffuse pleural thickening (DPT), is a lung disease in which extensive scarring thickens the pleura, the thin membrane that covers the lungs. As the scar tissue grows, it can encase the lung and close off the space between the lungs and pleura. The condition, one of the most commonly diagnosed signs of asbestos exposure, may cause chest pain and a significant decline in breathing function.

What causes it?

Although the cause and severity of the condition can vary, it is often the result of prolonged exposure to asbestos. When we inhale asbestos fibres, they can become embedded in the pleura. There, the fibres can trigger an inflammatory response that causes the progressive build up of fibrous scar tissue.

Pleural thickening does not always signify an asbestos-related disease. A number of other factors can cause the disease.

Symptoms

In its earliest stages, the condition has no symptoms. As the disease progresses, patients may experience chest pain and breathlessness.

It can also cause restrictive lung disease, which prevents the lungs from fully expanding. As a result, patients experience decreased lung volume and may have to work harder to breathe.

How Is It Diagnosed

There are a number of tests that doctors can use to diagnose the condition. On an imaging scan of the chest, pleural thickening appears as an irregular shadow on the pleura that extends over at least 25 percent of the chest wall.

The condition is most commonly diagnosed via chest X-ray, but diagnosis by (computed tomography CT scan) is becoming increasingly popular. Numerous studies have established that when compared to X-rays, high resolution CT scans can better detect pleural thickening, pleural plaques and asbestosis.

Treatment

While the damage is irreversible, there are some treatment options available. Most commonly, doctors offer therapies to treat the disease’s symptoms. They can prescribe pain medications such as bronchodilators, steroids and antibiotics that make breathing easier.

Smoking can lead to decreased lung function, so health care professionals recommend that patients stop smoking if diagnosed with pleural thickening. By quitting, patients may also reduce their risk of developing more serious lung diseases.


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