Pleural plaques are a scarring of the outer lining of the lung and are caused by exposure to asbestos. They are not dangerous and in nearly all cases, do not cause any symptoms.
What is it?
Pleural plaques are the most common indication of exposure to asbestos. Characterized by areas of fibrous thickening on the lining of the lungs (pleura) or diaphragm, the condition typically arises 20 to 30 years after asbestos exposure. The plaques can calcify over time, but they do not cause long-term health problems.
Pleural plaques are benign, which means they are not cancerous. Furthermore, they cannot become cancerous over time. In nearly all cases, there are no symptoms.
Pleural plaques are almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos, but having the condition does not necessarily mean that you will develop a more serious asbestos-related disease like asbestosis or mesothelioma. However, because the presence of plaques suggests a significant past exposure to asbestos, they do indicate an increased risk that mesothelioma or lung cancer may arise later in life.
What causes it?
When people are exposed to asbestos, inhaled fibres can accumulate in the lining of the lungs and irritate the lung tissue. However, it is unclear exactly how asbestos fibres cause pleural plaques to develop.
In 5 to 15 percent of cases, pleural plaques become calcified. As calcium deposits build up in them, the scar tissue hardens. Rarely, calcified pleural plaques can inhibit lung function and cause patients to have trouble breathing.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Doctors typically diagnose this condition using a chest X-ray or CT scan. Because it rarely causes symptoms, they usually find it incidentally after performing an imaging scan for an unrelated reason.
Because pleural plaques are non-cancerous and the majority of patients do not experience a loss in lung function, treatment is not necessary.
Although this condition may not place you at a higher risk of developing a more serious asbestos-related disease, you should always notify your doctor if you experience symptoms like
breathlessness, a persistent cough, chest pain or coughing up blood. If breathing does become an issue, your doctor can perform a variety of treatments and refer you to a specialist.