Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Rare Case of Mesothelioma, Asbestosis

Asbestosis, also known as diffuse pulmonary fibrosis, is a chronic lung disease that induces a scarring of lung tissues and generally characterized by severe shortness of breath -- as the first symptoms to appear. Other symptoms include a dry cough, tightness in the chest, fatigue, loss of appetite, and clubbing of the fingers (when it reaches the advanced stages). Asbestosis does not have a cure.

Asbestos exposure is the primary cause of asbestosis, and it needs 10-30 years for asbestosis disease to develop. That means when the disease is diagnosed, the patients may have been exposed to asbestos in the past -- as far as 30 years ago.

Exposure happens when someone inhales the asbestos fibers. The continued exposure may lead to the accumulation of the fibers in lung tissues, causing a long-term fibrosis or scarring. From time to time, lung tissues will thicken, causing unbearable pain, and shortness of breath.

Because asbestosis is not a form of mesothelioma or lung cancer, the prognosis is positive. People can live for many years with this disease. However, the patients will need increased treatments as the condition may get worse as they age.


When a person is exposed to high levels of asbestos fibers for a long period of time, some of the fibers will be lodged in the alveoli – tiny sacs within your lungs where oxygen and carbon dioxide move between the bloodstream and lungs. The asbestos fibers will irritate the lungs tissue and scar them where the lungs become stiff. That’s when the patients start to get shortness of breath.

As asbestosis continues, the scars in lung tissues are getting worse.Over time, the lung tissue becomes too stiff that it can’t work properly (contract and expand abnormally).

If you are smoking cigarettes, the retention of asbestos fibers will increase in your lungs and induce a faster progression of the disease.

The primary symptoms are shortness of breath and generalized weaknesses where you get tired easily and unexplained fatigue. The amount and length of asbestos exposure will decide the severity of the symptoms.

Patients may suffer from dry inspiratory crackles (a rattling and clicking noises made by the lungs during inhalation), clubbing of the fingers (a condition where there is a bulging at the end of the fingers, softening of the fingernail beds, and misshapen nails that caused by an extreme decreased of oxygenated blood flow) just like lung cancer.

More than 50% of people develop plaques in the parietal pleura ( space between the chest wall and the lungs), andthere is always an indication of fibrosis in the lower lung lobes where asbestosis is most common.

Another signs and symptoms of asbestosis are:
  • Chest pain
  • Swelling in the face and neck
  • Coughing up blood or hemoptysis
  • Having difficulty to swallow
  • Lose of appetite
  • Weight loss
In severe cases, the heart will have to pump a faster rate than normal due to the drastic reduction in lung function. If someone with this disease dies from heart failure, it's not uncommon, although the contributing factor is asbestosis.

Other complications may arise in the later stages of the disease development, including
  • High Blood Pressure
Asbestosis may lead to high blood pressure in the arteries near the lungs since it can destroy the lungs’ blood vessels. This complication is often referred as pulmonary hypertension.
  • Heart Disease
Along with the increasing of blood pressure, the heart will need to work harder (to pump blood) than its normal rate. Over time, the heart may suffer and weaken then finally fail to function.
  • Other Lung Complications
Asbestos fibers in the lungs can cause the accumulation of fluids in the lungs, the formation of calcium plaques or deposits, and thickening of pleural membranes (lung membranes).Even though these complications are not related to cancer, however, it can cause respiratory difficulty and should be considered as a harmful threat to your health.
  • Cancers
Asbestosis may elevate to another severe and deadly diseases, such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.
The Diagnosis

Asbestosis disease can be diagnosed using these recommended diagnostic tools, such as:
  • A through physical examination 
  • Lung function tests
  • Chest X-ray 
Since X-rays cannot detect the presence of microscopic asbestos fibers, the most reliable way to confirm it is to do alung biopsy, in which a small part of the tissue is removed by surgery.
The treatments

Apparently, there is no cure for asbestosis disease, thus the only treatment options is to reduce the pain that include:
  • Respiratory physiotherapy that uses to remove secretions from the lungs
  • Oxygen therapy that helps to relieve shortness of breath
  • Medications to relieve pain and thin secretions

Risk Factors

People who worked in milling, manufacturing, mining, and removal or installation of asbestos products before the late 1970s, have a higher chance of contracting asbestosis disease. There include:
  • Building construction workers
  • Aircraft and auto mechanics
  • Asbestos miners
  • Workers removing asbestos insulation around steam pipes in older buildings
  • Shipyard workers
  • Boiler operators
  • Electricians
  • Railroad workers
Generally, as long as the asbestos fibers are contained, it is practically safe to be around materials that are made from asbestos. The contained asbestos fibers will prevent them from getting into the air and inhaled by humans.
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