Many “pleural diseases” that are so identified are actually symptoms, not diseases themselves. In addition, while many outward symptoms are similar – or even identical – internal symptoms can differ from one condition to another. In these cases, accurate diagnosis requires a physician with access to appropriate medical equipment.
Pleural disease is a disorder that affects the pleural lining of the lungs. It actually consists of two membranes, one of which covers the surface of the lung itself, the other of which is attached to the inner chest wall. The narrow space between these two layers is called the pleural cavity. A small amount of lymphatic fluid fills this space, acting as a lubricant and allowing the lungs to expand without discomfort.
When too much fluid builds up in this space, or the linings become either inflamed or scarred or cancerous, it places pressure on the lungs in such a way that they are unable to expand properly.
The most obvious symptoms of pleural disease are shortness of breath (called dyspnea) and chest pain. The former is of course due to the aforementioned pressure on the lungs, which in turn causes reduced lung capacity and ability to take in air. The chest pain is caused by (A) the build-up of fluids and/or (B) the contact between the lungs and the inner chest wall once the pleural linings have been affected by plaque build-up and scarring.
In the case of asbestos disease, these symptoms generally develop slowly over a period of several years, or even decades. The length of time generally depends on the length of time that asbestos exposure occurred, and density of the asbestos during that time. For example, virtually everyone on the planet has been exposed to asbestos fibers, as these are a by-product of industrial society, and also occur naturally in the air.
Pleural symptoms when due to bacterial or viral infections or even trauma such as chest injury are usually treatable with medication. Pleural diseases caused by asbestos, such as mesothelioma (The most common form of which is pleural mesothelioma) are incurable and invariably fatal; however, the symptoms of pleural asbestos diseases can be addressed through the use of medication and surgical procedures in order to relieve associated pain and discomfort.
Symptoms experienced by the patient are due to the pleural lining being thickened and fibrous. Pleural plaques are such fibrous areas on the lung, diaphragm and pleural lining that are a manifestation of asbestos exposure, although they may also be caused by certain genetic diseases (i.e., fibrosis).
As the build-up of scar tissues associated with such plaques continues, it eventually blocks the lungs, preventing them from inflating properly.
If one has worked in an industry in which asbestos was used, it is vital to get frequent check-ups. If any symptoms associated with pleural disease should become manifest, it is especially important to get a referral to a qualified oncologist, as these specialists are trained in issues related to cancer. Final determination as to whether or not the disease is determined to be a mesothelioma diagnosis will ultimately be determined through a biopsy, or analysis of an actual sample of lung tissue by a pathologist.
Like most cancers, mesothelioma treatment is most effective in the early stages of the disease.