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What is Pleural Thickening?

By Emma Lloyd
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The lining of the lungs, called the pleura or pleural membranes, consists of thin membranes that cover the lungs and provide protection and support. Some diseases can cause these membranes to thicken, often as a result of inflammation. Pleural thickening is commonly linked to mesothelioma and asbestosis, which are caused by asbestos exposure. The condition can also be caused by other diseases such as sarcoidosis and tuberculosis.

Pleural thickening is a common side effect of exposure to asbestos, and this thickening is an early warning sign for diagnosis. The pleural membranes thicken as a result of the chronic irritation and inflammation that asbestos fibers cause when they lodge in the lungs. Asbestos fibers are so small they cannot be seen with the naked eye, but in the lungs and lung membranes their needle-like shape can cause widespread damage to the delicate tissue.

When caused by exposure to asbestos, pleural thickening occurs in conjunction with other consequences of pleural disease, such as fibrosis and effusion. Pleural fibrosis describes the development of excess amounts of connective tissue, which occurs as the lungs attempt to repair the damage caused by asbestos fibers. Pleural effusion occurs when inflammation causes fluid to accumulate between the lungs and the lung linings.

Thickening, fibrosis, and effusion of the pleural membranes are characteristic consequences of asbestosis, but may also be seen in cases of mesothelioma. These changes in lung tissue have serious consequences, eventually leading to markedly decreased lung function. People with asbestosis often have a dry cough, chest pain, and difficulty breathing. These symptoms occur partly because pleural thickening, fibrosis, and effusion cause lung tissue to become rigid, meaning the lungs are unable to inflate properly.

Thickening of the pleura is a symptom of both asbestosis and mesothelioma, but has other causes not related to asbestos. Tuberculosis, caused by lung infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and sarcoidosis, a chronic inflammatory disease, can also cause pleural thickening. This pleural symptom can also occur in conjunction with a condition called hemothorax, which is caused by the presence of blood in the chest cavity.

Thickening of the pleural membranes is not a condition which is treatable. Because the thickening is a symptom of a disease such as asbestosis, treatment is more focused on the underlying cause of the thickening. Asbestosis itself is not curable, but the effects of symptoms can be ameliorated with pain medication and treatments that help the lungs compensate for loss of function.

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Discussion Comments
By anon323451 — On Mar 05, 2013

What is the meaning of "loss of hila"?

By anon292817 — On Sep 22, 2012

What does this mean? "Negative chest save for pleural reaction in the left base?"

By anon285791 — On Aug 17, 2012

Can I get treatment to remove pleural thickening from my chest? My x-ray report is as follows: I have pleural thickening in left upper zone.

Right hilum is pulled upwards, suggestive of volume loss in upper zone.

1-No other abnormality detected in lung fields. 2-Heart and mediastinal markings appear normal. 3-Both hila, c.p.angles and diaphragm appear normal. 4-Bony thoracic case appears normal.

By anon193111 — On Jul 03, 2011

I have pleural thickening due to having trauma from an accident, breaking multiple ribs. Then one year later, I had suregry to remove parts of six ribs. Now the CT scan results show that I have a lot of this thickening. Is it due to having my left lung collapsed twice?

I'm freaking out, because now they want to do a lumbar epidural steroid injection and then a paravertebral block, then maybe a spinal cord stimulator. What do I do?

By anon156361 — On Feb 26, 2011

i also have pleural thickening in the left lung. I'm a chemical engineering student. exposure to chemicals can be the cause. but does this mean i can't do strenuous activities like football anymore?

By anon109069 — On Sep 05, 2010

I am a nail tech and have been using acrylic powders for 15 years. Could this cause pleural thickening? I have to have a ct scan in the next three weeks because of pleural thickening in the left lung. Thanks.

By highlighter — On Aug 06, 2010

@ Anon85531- There is not much research on the effects of carbon particles on the lungs, but I was able to find a source of information for you. The American Journal of Industrial Medicine published a case study on three workers who contracted lung disease form inhalation of activated charcoal and charcoal dust (February 2007, volume 50, issue 3, Pp. 191). The case study concluded that there is likely an occupational hazard associated with wood carbon exposure above limit levels.

I believe there are also studies published about the effects of coal dust on the lungs. Researchers have studied this more extensively, and the same journal has likely published information about coal dust exposure.

By anon85531 — On May 20, 2010

Can carbon cause pleural thickening? I worked for a period of time where I probably ingested carbon dust

and now have pleural thickening which has been getting worse over years. Thanks

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