What are pleural plaques?

Pleural plaques are localised areas of fibrous thickening normally found on the parietal pleura which lines the rib cage and is caused by inhaled asbestos fibres which become trapped in the lung linings and irritate the lung tissue.

Whilst recognised as a benign lung scarring complaint sufferers should be vigilant to the prospect of later in life developing mesothelioma or lung cancer which represent a more serious condition associated to asbestos exposure. Commonly this condition is referred to as ‘plaques’, ‘lung scarring’ or ‘scarring of the lung’.

Pleural plaque sufferers might also develop pleural thickening which involves more extensive fibrous thickening and prevent the lungs from expanding properly thereby causing symptoms of breathlessness and potentially chest pain.

How are pleural plaques caused?

When asbestos fibres are inhaled they accumulate in the linings of the lungs and irritate lung tissue. This invasion of foreign bodies prompts the body’s defence mechanism to seek out and break down the fibres before they are able to penetrate lung tissue and enter the bloodstream.  This process involves lung cells known as ‘pleural macrophages’ which are released and trigger a chain of events resulting in the formation of fibrosis which replaces healthy lung tissue.

The process typically arises over 20 – 50 years following exposure to asbestos and over time the plaques can become calcified (calcified pleural plaques) and the scar tissue hardens.  Pleural plaques is the most common form of asbestos-related disease and in the vast majority of cases is without any symptoms, hence the large number of diagnoses made on an incidental basis during imaging scan (x-ray or CT Scan) for an unrelated reason.

Who is most at risk of developing pleural plaques?

Low levels of asbestos exposure can cause pleural plaques to develop therefore all workers across all industries who were exposed to asbestos fibres are at some risk of developing pleural plaques. Some of the most common working environments associated to this condition would include;

  • Laggers
  • Shipbuilders
  • Plumbers
  • Heating engineers
  • Electricians
  • Carpenters
  • Mechanics
  • Boiler makers
  • Metal workers
  • Roofers
  • Factory workers
  • Power stations
  • Telephone exchange

Common symptoms of pleural plaques

There are generally no symptoms associated to pleural plaques albeit a small percentage of sufferers experience some discomfort in breathing. If you have any symptoms of breathlessness or chest pain you should consult your GP immediately and outline your earlier exposure to asbestos.

Given the symptomless nature of this condition it is important there is no delay in reporting to your GP any deterioration in your health which you believe could be associated to your earlier work and exposure to asbestos fibres.

If you remain concerned, having regard to your age, general health and previous exposure to asbestos fibres, you might wish to discuss the issue of your asbestos exposure with your GP when you next have cause to visit.  Maybe it is time for you to have another health-check or to have further follow-up investigations for an earlier health issue?

If you were diagnosed with pleural plaques some years ago and now find yourself experiencing symptoms of breathlessness, chest pain, coughing or unexplained weight loss this could indicate the development of another asbestos-related disease such as pleural thickening, asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma which should be investigated without delay. If you recognise any of these signs or wish to understand more about pleural plaques please contact us today.

If you have been diagnosed with pleural plaques which have been described as ‘extensive’ and breathing tests (lung function/spirometry) indicate you have a ‘restrictive lung pattern’, in the absence of another medical condition, it might be possible to recover compensation on your behalf.

In these instances, with the aid of your lung function/spirometry report Experienced Industrial Disease Solicitors would be prepared to further investigate your particular case and we would invite you to call us today.

How are pleural plaques diagnosed?

Most incidences are identified after a chest x-ray which usually displays those more noticeable and pronounced plaques which have become calcified. As pleural plaques are normally without symptoms their diagnosis is often made incidentally during other investigations often for an unrelated reason.

Chest x-ray

Pleural plaques are normally seen as shadowing in the lung which is often confirmed by further investigation, CT Scan.  An x-ray will detect abnormalities in the structure of the lung associated to asbestos exposure and might also confirm the existence of another asbestos-related condition such as pleural thickening which represents more extensive scarring of the lung (diffuse scarring) or asbestosis.

CT Scan (computerised tomography)

This is a painless process which produces more detailed 3D images of the lungs and can help identify less obvious abnormalities missed by x-ray such as pleural thickening or early stage asbestosis and help to identify plaques anywhere in the chest, calcified or not.

If a diagnosis of pleural plaques is made it is unlikely any further treatment will be necessary but you should remain vigilant in terms of monitoring your health and contact your GP if you experience symptoms of breathlessness, a persistent cough, chest pain, coughing up blood or any other health issues which cause you concern.

Your GP is likely to ask you some questions regarding your health, employment and exposure to asbestos fibres.

What treatments are available for pleural plaques?

No treatment is provided for pleural plaques given it is an entirely benign condition.  The existence of pleural plaques is a ‘marker’ of asbestos dust exposure and no more.  There is no medical or scientific evidence to indicate pleural plaques are a pre-malignant form of cancer or their existence increases the risk of developing a more serious asbestos-related disease like mesothelioma, lung cancer or asbestosis.

The risk of developing a more serious asbestos-related illness comes from the nature and extent of any earlier exposure to asbestos fibres.

If you have been diagnosed with pleural plaques and develop symptoms of chest pain, coughing or breathlessness it is important you seek medical attention.  Whilst unlikely to be connected to your pleural plaques your symptoms need attention to determine what, if anything could be causing these difficulties.

Compensation for pleural plaques

Pleural plaques are an indication of asbestos exposure and many sufferers feel anxious they might develop another asbestos condition such as mesothelioma which is an aggressive incurable form of lung cancer caused by asbestos.

Compensation for pleural plaques was removed in the UK by an English court case in 2007 but was later reinstated under Scots law by Scottish Parliament legislation and similarly in Northern Ireland. If you have developed pleural plaques from working with asbestos in Scotland or Northern Ireland or whilst employed by a Scottish or Irish company please contact us today.

If you have been diagnosed with pleural plaques which have been described as ‘extensive’ and your lung function tests indicate a ‘restrictive lung pattern’ we would like to hear from you today.  In the absence of another medical condition affecting your breathing it might nevertheless be possible to bring a claim for compensation. We can provide fast access to experienced Industrial Disease solicitors who are waiting to speak to you to discuss all aspects of your case and provide reassurance as to how they might seek to progress your claim.

Pleural plaques - remain vigilant!

Sadly many pleural plaque sufferers in England and Wales feel they have been betrayed by the Government following removal of long standing compensation which followed a lengthy review into the disease and its relationship to long term harm. The review concluded that pleural plaques in themselves do not represent any injury or harm and there is no firm basis to suggest pleural plaques can turn into cancer or a more serious condition.

Whilst pleural plaques are accepted as a ‘marker’ of asbestos exposure it was confirmed that it is the nature and extent of exposure to asbestos fibres which increases the risk of developing a more serious condition like asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma and not the existence of pleural plaques.

Our advice to sufferers of pleural plaques is to remain vigilant in terms of monitoring your health and seek medical opinion if you believe there is any deterioration in your health which could indicate development of another lung disease.

Many GP’s undertake regular screening and health checks of pleural plaques patients to detect early signs of another asbestos condition. When were you last checked out?  Have you noticed any changes in your general health?

Underlying indications your condition could have deteriorated must be checked with your GP and the signs might include;

  • Breathlessness and tightness across the chest
  • Persistent cough
  • Chest pain
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Chest, back and shoulder pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Frequent infections such as recurring pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Fatigue

Abestos Health Check offer continued support and a point of contact for people to raise any issues regarding their condition and situation entirely FREE of charge.  Register on FREEPHONE 0808 164 6018.

We regularly speak with people who have been diagnosed with pleural plaques and are of the opinion their condition and symptoms are more in keeping with other potential asbestos-related conditions such as pleural thickening and/or early asbestosis.  Frequently there is a difference of medical opinion in making a diagnosis and the issue of  ‘pleural plaques or pleural thickening’ has long been a bone of contention given both conditions represent areas of scarring, calcification and/or thickening of the pleura, but to different extent.

We recognise over time conditions can change which lead to more pronounced symptoms which is why we encourage our pleural plaque community to speak with their GP’s if they have any concerns.

If you have been diagnosed with pleural plaques and are concerned about your respiratory health please contact us on FREEPHONE 0808 164 6018  for further advice, reassurance or simply to chat!