What Are Pleural Plaques?
Pleural plaques are chalky buildups of collagen, a protein naturally found in the body. Pleural plaques usually develop as part of the body’s natural immune response being exposed to asbestos.
When asbestos fibers are inhaled or swallowed, the body’s immune system attempts to eliminate them. However, asbestos fibers are so strong that they can never be broken down and so small that they cannot be removed.
While asbestos fibers can settle in different parts of the body, pleural plaques can form when they settle in the pleura (the lining of the lungs).
There are two parts of the pleura:
- The parietal pleura: This part of the pleura lines the diaphragm and chest wall. Most pleural plaques develop here.
- The visceral pleura: The visceral pleura lines the inside of the lungs. Though rare, pleural plaques can also develop in this part of the pleura.
These fibers slowly irritate healthy lung tissue depending on where they settle in the pleura. Over time, the body’s immune response to these fibers causes pleural thickening, the hardening of collagen, and the formation of scar tissue.
Pleural plaques rarely cause symptoms, but in some cases, chest pain when breathing or a persistent cough may be reported. These symptoms are generally mild.
Are Pleural Plaques Harmful?
No — unlike some other asbestos-related diseases, pleural plaques are generally not harmful.
Most doctors suggest that patients with pleural plaques do not need any form of medical intervention.
However, because pleural plaques often develop due to past exposure to asbestos, they may mean victims have an increased risk of related conditions, including asbestos-related lung diseases or malignant (cancerous) mesothelioma.
Quick Facts About Pleural Plaques
- Pleural plaques are known as a marker of asbestos exposure, according to a 2017 report published in BioMed Research International. A marker can help doctors confirm that someone was exposed to asbestos.
- They are the most common asbestos-related disease, according to a 2011 study published by ScienceDirect.
- Pleural plaques occur in 50% of people who suffered from long-term asbestos exposure, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
- Pleural plaques are typically not found in the general population, though the true incidence rate is unknown due to a lack of screenings.