- Understanding COPD Slideshow
- COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) Quiz
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- Patient Comments: Asbestos - Asbestosis Signs
- Patient Comments: Asbestos - Asbestosis Diagnosis
- Find a local Pulmonologist in your town
- Asbestos-related disorders facts
- What is the definition of asbestos?
- What are the types of asbestos-related lung disease?
- What are the types of asbestos fibers?
- What does fiber size have to do with asbestos-related lung disease?
- What is asbestosis?
- What are symptoms and signs of asbestosis?
- What tests and studies are used to evaluate asbestosis?
- How is asbestosis treated?
- What is pleural disease?
- Does asbestos exposure cause lung cancer?
- What is malignant mesothelioma?
- What other cancers have been linked to asbestos exposure?
- How can exposure to asbestos be reduced?
- What kind of asbestos is used today?
What tests and studies are used to evaluate asbestosis?
Breathing abnormalities can be identified with lung function tests (pulmonary function tests or PFTs) or exercise tests that are performed at specialized laboratories. Asbestosis can produce both obstruction of airflow and restriction of lung inflation. In addition, the disease can affect the ability to transfer oxygen into the blood. With advanced disease, patients may have markedly reduced blood oxygen at rest and may need supplementary oxygen.
X-ray abnormalities include thickening of the lining of the lungs and tiny lines marking the lower portions of the lungs. However, up to 20% of patients have completely normal-appearing chest X-rays. These patients may demonstrate more subtle changes on computerized X-ray studies (computerized tomography, or CT scans). Up to 30% of patients with a normal chest X-ray who have been exposed to asbestos will have an abnormal high resolution (high definition) CT. The CT scan may be very useful in separating true asbestosis from other conditions that may have similar findings. However, even a CT scan may not identify disease of the lining of the lung (pleural disease) in patients with asbestosis. The proper role of CT scanning has not been fully established.
Laboratory testing studies may be abnormal (certain antibodies and markers of inflammation), but they do not specifically suggest asbestosis.
Occasionally, a biopsy and microscopic examination of the lung is used to diagnose asbestosis. Under microscopic examination, certain coated fibers (asbestos bodies) can be seen in association with a pattern of scarring. The amount of both coated and uncoated (transparent) asbestos has been linked to the severity of asbestosis. Because other particles may resemble asbestos, a conclusive identification may require scanning electron microscopy. Currently, detection of asbestos fibers in the lung tissue and fluids (sputum, secretions) can be used to make the diagnosis, along with a history of asbestos exposure and characteristic X-ray or CT results.
The currently available commercial form of asbestos, chrysotile, does not form asbestos bodies as easily as previously used fibers.