Pleural plaques are areas of hard, scar-like tissue in the outer lining of the lungs (pleura) and the muscle below the lungs (diaphragm). They are caused by exposure to asbestos, which can also cause the buildup of fluid between the lungs and the pleura (called pleural effusions), pleural thickening, and lung cancer. Exposure to asbestos can also cause asbestosis, which is characterized by scarring in the lungs (called fibrosis) and it is the only known cause of mesothelioma.
Asbestos has been banned in more than 40 countries and it is strictly regulated in the U.S. However, before the mineral became Public Enemy Number One, thousands of workers in dozens of industries were exposed for prolonged periods. Decades later, many of these workers developed asbestos-related conditions such as pleural plaques. These individuals worked in the construction and automotive industries, in oil refineries, mining, and chemical plants, and in steel mills, plumbing, pipe-fitting, insulation, and more. Asbestos use was also rampant in every single branch of the military. It was used in shipbuilding, and to construct planes, aircraft carriers, base facilities, and more.
Before the dangers of asbestos were widely known, it was believed that only prolonged exposure to large quantities of the mineral could cause irreversible damage to the lungs or fatal disease. It is now known that any level of exposure to asbestos can be hazardous to your health.
Symptoms of Pleural Plaques
Like other types of asbestos-related diseases, pleural plaques may cause impaired lung function. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), “as the pleura thickens, it can trap and compress part of the lung,” leading to labored breathing and tightening in the chest. However, the NHLBI also states that this is uncommon and in most cases, pleural plaques do not cause any other symptoms.
The British Lung Foundation (BLF) adds that if you have pleural plaques, it does not mean that you will go on to develop a more serious disease, or that you have a more serious disease at the moment. In fact, the BLF says people live with pleural plaques for many years without even knowing they have them.
Most people with pleural plaques find out that they have them through a chest X-ray or CT scan. The BLF notes that “the risk associated with exposure to X-rays or a CT scan is far greater than the benefits of finding out that you have pleural plaques.”
Treatment Options for Pleural Plaques
While pleural plaques are irreversible, they are benign and considered the least serious asbestos-related condition. In the majority of cases, they do not have to be treated. However, once you have been diagnosed with pleural plaques, the worst thing you can do is continue working in a hazardous environment or smoke. Smoking and further exposure to asbestos can still exacerbate the condition and lead to respiratory defects that may be categorized as a disability. Further, pleural plaques can increase the risk of developing other more serious asbestos-related diseases anywhere from 1% to 5%.
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, the attorneys at Goldenberg Heller & Antognoli, P.C. can help. Contact us today at 800-782-8492 (toll-free) to schedule a free, no-obligation case evaluation or click here to email us. We look forward to discussing your case.
For more information about pleural plaques, please review:
- Pleural Plaques: Information for Health Care Professionals by the British Thoracic Society (BTS).
- 100 Questions & Answers About Mesothelioma, Second Edition
Harvey I. Pass, MD, NYU School of Medicine and Clinical Cancer Center
- American Cancer Society (ACS)
- British Lung Foundation (BLF)
- British Thoracic Society (BTS)
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
- Union of Construction, Allied Trades & Technicians (UCATT), Health and Safety Bulletin
- U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), National Institutes of Health (NIH), PubMed
- Photo: By National Heart Lung and Blood Institute [Public domain]