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» Asbestosis Lung Fibrosis Caused by Asbestos Exposure
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» Lung Fibrosis vs. Mesothelioma
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Lung fibrosis is a disease characterized by scarring in the interstitium the space between the alveoli (air sacs) of the lungs. This potentially fatal disease is also known as pulmonary fibrosis, interstitial pulmonary fibrosis, interstitial fibrosis and interstitial lung disease (ILD). Lung fibrosis that is caused by asbestos exposure is called asbestosis. This article provides a synopsis of the disease; for more detailed information on pulmonary fibrosis, please refer to our article titled interstitial lung disease.
Pulmonary fibrosis occurs when inflammation in the space between the alveoli leads to the formation of scar tissue, stiffening the lungs and affecting their ability to transport oxygen. This can occur for many reasons, including infections, drug reactions, heart failure, sarcoidosis, radiation from cancer treatment, genetics, allergic reactions and collagen or connective tissue diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and systemic sclerosis. It can also be caused by exposure to asbestos. Some evidence suggests that it can be caused by erionite exposure. (Erionite is a mineral similar to asbestos.)
When lung fibrosis is caused by exposure to asbestos it is called asbestosis. This disease should not be confused with pleural mesothelioma (malignant mesothelioma in the lining of the lungs), although some asbestosis victims do later develop mesothelioma. Like mesothelioma, asbestosis is caused by inhalation of asbestos fibers so tiny that the lungs are unable to filter them; these fibers become lodged in the tissue of the lungs, often with deadly consequences.
Dry cough and difficulty breathing during exercise are the two most common symptoms of lung fibrosis caused by asbestos exposure. Because these symptoms are common to many types of interstitial lung disease, doctors must perform a battery of tests before diagnosing a patient with asbestosis. These may include blood tests, chest X-rays, CT scans, pulmonary function tests, lung biopsy, bronchoscopy and bronchoalveolar lavage. These tests may reveal plaques on or thickening of the membranes surrounding the lungs (pleural plaques and pleural thickening, respectively), indicating damage but not necessarily asbestosis. The presence of whitening is a better indication of asbestosis.
Treatment for asbestos-related lung fibrosis may include medication for inflammation and oxygen to help with breathing. Excessive fluid buildup (pleural effusion) may be treated through a procedure called thoracentesis. Your physician can provide you with treatment information more specific to your condition.
Though pulmonary fibrosis and mesothelioma are both caused by inhalation of asbestos fibers, the diseases are very different in nature. Lung fibrosis can be deadly but it is not a form of cancer, whereas mesothelioma is cancer in the lining of a bodily organ.
As a result, lung fibrosis symptoms and mesothelioma symptoms are similar but not necessarily the same, and treatment for the two diseases often varies. Because mesothelioma is a type of cancer, mesothelioma treatment may involve radiation and chemotherapy. This is not the case for lung fibrosis.
The prognosis for patients with pulmonary fibrosis varies, but the prognosis for mesothelioma is always bleak; most mesothelioma patients succumb to the disease within a year.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with asbestos-related lung fibrosis or mesothelioma, you may wish to consider your legal options. These devastating diseases are nearly always the result of inhalation of asbestos, exposure to which is often the fault of another party’s negligence in handling the product. For more information on the legal ramifications of lung fibrosis, speak with a qualified personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.
[Page updated November 2011]