Pleural thickening can also be referred to as DPT, diffuse pleural thickening. It is a disease that afflicts the protective membrane around the lungs known as the pleura. It results from scarring of the pleura, and as the scar tissue progresses it may begin to occlude the space between the lungs and pleura.

Causes of plural thickening and its severity may vary. A common cause for plural thickening is the inhalation exposure of asbestos, something which we’ve teamed up with Asbestos Advice Helpline to take a look at. When exposed to asbestos, inhaled fibers may stick in the pleura and be the cause of inflammation and cause the growth of scar tissue.

Asbestos exposure is not the only cause of pleural thickening. Other causes of pleural thickening include: the buildup of pus in the pleural space (empyema), blood accumulating in the pleural space (hemothorax), a blockage of pulmonary arteries (pulmonary embolism), and a type of pleural inflammation known as fibrinous pleuritis.

Pleural thickening is not to be confused with pleural plaques. Pleural plaques are firm, and often calcified, scar tissue that grows in patches on the pleura. Plaques may be comorbid with pleural thickening, but the plaques offer much less risk of lung function impairment. Pleural thickening is also common after a patient suffers a pleural effusion (buildup of fluid in the space between the pleura).

Symptoms of Pleural Thickening

In early stages, pleural thickening does not present symptoms that a patient may notice. With the progression of the disease, patience will notice an increase in the severity of symptoms. The primary complaints offered by those afflicted with pleural thickening are breathlessness and chest pain. Pleural thickening can cause restrictive lung disease: it may prevent the lungs from fully expanding. The related drop in lung volume may present to patients as their need to work harder to breathe. The swelling of the pleura reduces the amount of space that the lungs have inside the rib cage, so labored breathing and shortness of breath are signs that the lungs are not being allowed to fill to their full volume. This is what creates the sensation of shortness of breath in patients with pleural thickening.

Symptoms can be generalized to: shortness of breath, a tight feeling across the chest, and general chest pain (usually manifest after physical exertion). For those who have chest pain in the left side, check out this content. If the patient has pleural thickening that is progressive, such as that which results from asbestos exposure, pleural thickening may eventually become debilitating and pose threats to their quality of life.

Treatment

The damage that causes pleural thickening is irreversible, but there are available treatment options. Doctors will most commonly prescribe therapies that can help with the symptoms of pleural thickening, but may choose to include medications like bronchodilators or steroids that can ease breathing.

Smoking tobacco can contribute to decreased lung function, so it is in a smoking patient’s best interest to quit smoking as soon as possible- especially if the patient is diagnosed with pleural thickening. The cessation of smoking will also reduce the patient’s risk of developing more hazardous lung diseases.

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