Asbestosis is a lung disease that occurs in people who inhale asbestos fibers and dust over a long period of time. Asbestos is a mineral that forms tiny and long-lasting fibers.
When asbestos fibers and dust get into your lungs, they can cause fibrosis (thickening and scarring of the lungs). Asbestos can also cause the membranes surrounding your lungs (the pleura) to thicken. This scarring and thickening of lung tissue can make breathing difficult.
In some cases, asbestosis can lead to life-threatening complications, including lung cancer and heart failure. In severe cases, asbestosis can be fatal.
Breathing in asbestos fibers can cause scar tissue (fibrosis) to form inside the lung. Scarred lung tissue does not expand and contract normally.
How severe the disease depends on how long the person was exposed to asbestos and the amount that was breathed in and the type of fibers breathed in. Often, the symptoms aren't noticed for 20 years or more after the asbestos exposure.
Other asbestos-related diseases include:
When scar tissue forms around the lungs’ microscopic air sacs, known as alveoli, it gradually becomes harder for them to expand and fill with fresh air. The first symptoms of asbestosis include a dry cough and difficulty breathing, accompanied by crackling sounds.
The most common asbestosis symptoms include:
Asbestosis can be difficult to diagnose because its signs and symptoms are similar to those of many other types of respiratory diseases.
As part of your evaluation, your healthcare provider discusses your health history, occupation, and exposure risk to asbestos. During a physical exam, your healthcare provider uses a stethoscope to listen carefully to your lungs to determine if they make a crackling sound while inhaling.
A variety of diagnostic tests might be needed to help pinpoint the diagnosis.
These tests show images of your lungs:
Pulmonary function tests
Pulmonary function tests determine how well your lungs are functioning. These tests measure how much air your lungs can hold and the airflow in and out of your lungs.
During the test, you might be asked 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.
Forced Vital Capacity (FVC) less than 50-percent predicted, or; Diffusion Capacity of the Lung for Carbon Monoxide by the Single Breath Method (DLCO (SB)) less than 40-percent predicted, or; maximum exercise capacity less than 15 ml/kg/min oxygen consumption with cardiorespiratory limitation, or; cor pulmonale or pulmonary hypertension, or; requires outpatient oxygen therapy
FVC of 50- to 64-percent predicted, or; DLCO (SB) of 40- to 55-percent predicted, or; maximum exercise capacity of 15 to 20 ml/kg/min oxygen consumption with cardiorespiratory limitation
FVC of 65- to 74-percent predicted, or; DLCO (SB) of 56- to 65-percent predicted
FVC of 75- to 80-percent predicted, or; DLCO (SB) of 66- to 80-percent predicted
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