Pleural Thickening: How it affects the Lung

November 12, 2012

Pleural Thickening: How it affects the Lung

Pleural thickening is a common damaging effect of being exposed to asbestos. Without treatment, decreased lung function and complications can lead to death.

Many of the organs and cavities throughout the body have a lining or membrane surrounding the tissue. The membrane surrounding the lungs is known as the pleura and its job is to support and protect the lung tissue. Pleural thickening of this lining leads to a problem in the functionality of the protective membrane. If the cause of the thickening is not located in a timely manner, lung function can decrease dramatically. Many people do not think to go to a doctor until it becomes difficult to perform everyday activities. It is important to understand the condition so that questions and concerns can be asked at your doctor’s office.

Causes of Pleural Thickening

Over the last few years, many people have heard the horror stories of what long term exposure to asbestos has done to individuals. Asbestos are tiny, needle-like fibers which when inhaled can cause extensive damage to the delicate lung tissue. In order to try to protect the lungs, the membrane around the area begins to thicken as the body attempts to repair the damaged tissue. Pleural thickening is almost always a result of some sort of trauma or malady such as:

  • Long term asbestos exposure

  • Tuberculosis

  • Sarcoidosis

  • Mesothelioma

  • Chronic inflammation

  • Mechanical trauma such as car accidents

Symptoms

Even though pleural thickening affects only the lining of the lungs, it can lead to more severe problems. The signs and symptoms associated with the thickening can be from damage to the lining itself or any number of other complications which may have arisen. It is often secondary to a more severe condition such as mesothelioma so additional symptoms would be specific for that disease. The thickening of the lung membrane can lead to:

  • Inflammation and irritation of the membrane

  • Fibrosis – development of excessive connective tissue around the lungs

  • Pleural effusion – the accumulation of fluid around the lung

  • Overall decrease in lung function

  • Chest pain

  • Breathing difficulty

  • Cough

A CT scan of the chest will often show the thickening membrane and will also allow doctors to see the extent of any lung damage that may have taken place.

Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for the actual pleural thickening. The goal of doctors and health professionals is to treat the underlying causes of the condition. Depending on the cause of the thickening, people may be given pain medications, chemo, or a variety of prescription drugs. For instance, if a person is suffering from asbestosis damage, there is no current cure. The goal is to keep inflammation and pain under control. Hopefully, with continuous treatment, the body will be able to compensate for the loss of any lung function. Once a problem has been established that causes pleural thickening, it is important to see your doctor on a regular basis so that extra damage is kept to a minimal. A medical professional may also suggest breathing exercises or light cardio in order to keep lung capacity intact.

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