How are Asbestos-Related Lung Diseases Diagnosed?

The construction industry was booming in the 1960s and 70s. As millions of Americans moved out to the suburbs, commercial and residential buildings were built in record numbers. Unfortunately, the construction industry is one of the main occupations associated with asbestos exposure. Asbestos was used until 1989 in insulation, roof shingles, pipe fittings, vinyl flooring, and fire-proofing material, to name only a few products. The adverse health effects of asbestos exposure, though first reported in the 1920s, were solidified as medical fact in the 1980s.

The latency period between initial exposure to asbestos and the development of a related disease is between 20-50 years – an extended amount of time which contributes to the difficulty of detecting diseases early. Symptoms of asbestos-related illnesses are often subtle, such as coughing and abdominal pain, which also heightens the difficulty of diagnosis. These factors, along with the insidious nature of asbestos inhalation (it is invisible to the naked eye, odorless, and tasteless), have led to those with past exposure being blind-sided with an asbestos-related lung disease.

The diseases associated with exposure are serious and often fatal: mesothelioma, asbestosis, pleural plaques, and lung cancer. Asbestos lung cancer lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm understand that this issue is complex and confusing. If you have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness due to past occupational exposure, call an asbestos attorney today to discuss your legal rights.

Your doctor will diagnose an asbestos-related lung disease based on your past exposure to asbestos, your symptoms, a physical exam, and test results. Your primary care doctor, such as a family doctor or internist, may provide ongoing care if you have an asbestos-related lung disease. Other specialists also may be involved in your care, including a:

  • Pulmonologist. This is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating lung diseases.
  • Radiologist. This is a doctor who is specially trained to supervise x-ray tests and look at x-ray pictures.
  • Surgeon or oncologist. An oncologist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer. The surgeon or oncologist may take a tissue sample from your lungs to study under a microscope.
  • Pathologist. A pathologist is a doctor who specializes in identifying diseases by studying cells and tissues under a microscope. A pathologist may study your tissue sample.

Your doctor may ask whether you have any symptoms, such as shortness of breath or coughing. The symptoms of asbestos-related lung diseases vary. They depend on which disease you have and how much it has damaged your lungs. Smoking, along with asbestos exposure, raises your risk for lung cancer.

Your doctor will listen to your breathing with a stethoscope to find out whether your lungs are making any strange sounds. If you have a pleural effusion with a lot of fluid buildup, your doctor might hear a dull sound when he or she taps on your chest. Or, he or she might have trouble hearing any breathing sounds. If you have asbestosis, your doctor may hear a crackling sound when you breathe in.

Your doctor will check your legs for swelling, which may be a sign of lung-related problems. He or she also will check your fingers and toes for clubbing. Clubbing is the widening and rounding of the fingertips and toes. Clubbing most often is linked to heart and lung diseases that cause lower-than-normal blood oxygen levels.

A chest x-ray is the most common test for detecting asbestos-related lung diseases. This painless test creates pictures of the structures inside your chest, such as the lungs. A chest x-ray can’t detect asbestos fibers in the lungs. However, it can show asbestos-related diseases, such as pleural plaque and pleural effusion. Pleural effusion also can be a sign of a more severe disease, such as mesothelioma.

A chest x-ray also can show asbestosis. Often the lung tissue will appear very white on the x-ray pictures. The size, shape, location, and degree of whiteness can help your doctor figure out how much lung damage you have. Severe asbestosis may affect the whole lung and have a honeycomb look on the x-ray pictures. If you have lung cancer, a chest x-ray may show masses or abnormal fluid. If you have mesothelioma, a chest x-ray will show thickening of the pleura. The pleura is the tissue around the lungs and diaphragm (the muscle below your lungs).

Those with asbestos-related illnesses are entitled to justice for their losses. Call a lung cancer attorney today for a free consultation.