Asbestos-related conditions

Diffuse pleural thickening

Diffuse pleural thickening is where extensive, often smooth scarring, thickens the pleural membrane lining your lungs and chest wall.

Asbestos exposure is not the only cause of diffuse pleural thickening. Other causes include infection, inflammatory disease and non-malignant pleural effusion, which is when there is fluid around the lungs. In all of these cases, one or both lungs could be affected.

Symptoms

When your pleura becomes thicker and hard over a large area, your lungs cannot expand so far and you may feel breathless.

Diagnosis

Your GP will refer you to a specialist for lung function tests and a CT scan. This is a special X-ray machine that takes a picture of a cross-section of your body. Occasionally it will be necessary to take a sample, or biopsy, from the thickened pleural membrane to exclude a diagnosis of mesothelioma.

Treatment

In most cases, no treatment is required since the pleural thickening does not usually cause very severe symptoms. Avoiding smoking, keeping active and pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) are usually the most useful options. If your breathlessness is severe, surgery can be considered. This is rare as it is not usually very effective.

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Last medically reviewed: January 2018. Due for review: January 2021

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.