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Asbestosis

Introduction

Asbestosis (as-bes-TOE-sis) is a chronic lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. Repeated exposure to asbestos fibers can cause lung tissue scarring, which restricts lung function and results in shortness of breath. Asbestosis may lead to the following issues:

  • disability
  • mesothelioma (cancer affecting the membranes lining the lungs and abdomen)
  • lung cancer
  • cancers of the esophagus, stomach, colon, and rectum
  • death

Causes

When exposed to high levels of asbestos dust over an extended period, some of the airborne fibers become lodged within the tiny alveoli sacs inside your lungs. The asbestos fibers damage the alveoli sacs, reducing your lung’s ability to exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen in your blood. The lungs form scar tissue in response to the inflammation and damage created by the asbestos fibers.

As asbestosis progresses, your lung tissue becomes so stiff that it cannot contract and expand normally, reducing your ability to breathe.

Asbestosis Symptoms
The effects of long-term exposure to asbestos can take 10 to 40 years to develop.

Smoking appears to increase the retention of asbestos fibers in the lungs, and often results in a faster progression of the disease.

Symptoms

The effects of long-term exposure to asbestos can take 10 to 40 years to develop. Symptoms of asbestosis can vary in severity. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • shortness of breath
  • a persistent dry cough
  • loss of appetite with weight loss
  • fingertips and toes that appear wider and rounder than normal (clubbing)
  • chest tightness or pain

1. Which of the following is listed as a symptom of asbestosis?

a. Sore muscles
b. Sneezing
c. Weight gain
d. Loss of appetite

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Diagnosis

Asbestosis Diagnosis
Asbestosis can be difficult to diagnose.
Click to Enlarge.

Asbestosis can be difficult to diagnose because its signs and symptoms are like many other types of respiratory diseases.

When evaluating respiratory symptoms, your doctor will discuss your health history, occupation, and exposure risk to asbestos. During a physical exam, your doctor uses a stethoscope to listen carefully to your lungs to determine if they make a crackling sound while inhaling.

A variety of diagnostic tests may help pinpoint a diagnosis.

Imaging Tests

These tests provide a visual image of your lungs:

  • Chest X-ray: Advanced asbestosis appears as excessive whiteness in your lung tissue. It may affect both lungs if the asbestosis is severe, giving them a honeycomb appearance.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan: CT scans combine a series of X-ray views taken from many angles to produce cross-sectional images of the bones and soft tissues inside your body. These scans provide greater detail and might help detect asbestosis in its early stages, even before it shows up on a chest X-ray.

Pulmonary Function Tests

These tests determine how well your lungs are functioning. Pulmonary function tests measure how much air your lungs can hold and the airflow in and out of your lungs.

During the test, your doctor may ask you to blow as hard as you can into an air-measurement device called a spirometer. More complete pulmonary function tests can measure the amount of oxygen being transferred to your bloodstream.

Diagnostic Procedures

In some situations, your doctor might take fluid and tissue samples for testing to identify asbestos fibers or abnormal cells. Tests may include:

  • Bronchoscopy: A thin tube (bronchoscope) is passed through your nose or mouth, down your throat and into your lungs. A light and a small camera on the bronchoscope allow the doctor to look inside your lungs for any abnormalities or to get a fluid or tissue sample (biopsy) if needed.
  • Thoracentesis: In this procedure, your doctor injects a local anesthetic and then inserts a needle through your chest wall between your ribs and lungs to remove excess fluid for lab analysis and to help you breathe better. Your doctor might insert the needle with the help of ultrasound guidance.

Treatment

There is no treatment to reverse the effects of asbestos on the alveoli. Treatment focuses on slowing the progression of the disease, relieving symptoms, and preventing complications.

If diagnosed with asbestosis, you will need routine follow-up care, such as chest X-rays or CT scans and lung function tests, at regular intervals depending on the severity of your condition.

2. Which test will determine how well your lungs are functioning?

a. Bronchoscopy
b. Imaging tests
c. Pulmonary function test
d. Thoracentesis

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