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Whilst the inhalation of asbestos dust and fibres can cause mesothelioma and asbestosis (asbestos related fibrosis), both are entirely different conditions with their own particular features and associated symptoms.
Asbestos related fibrosis or asbestosis is a chronic disease of the lung itself which is caused by asbestos dust inhalation. The condition changes lung tissue, which is essential for gas exchange, into a fibrous form, resulting in loss of function slowly over time. The effect of this is that oxygenation will be reduced as a result of the fibrous tissue no long being capable of transferring gases. Oxygen levels in the blood of a sufferer are also reduced.
The condition is dose related which means that the more asbestos one breathes in, the greater the chances are of one developing the condition and the more serious their condition can become. It is usually the case that this particular asbestos related condition will not develop unless a potential sufferer has breathed in vast quantities of asbestos dust over many years. When looking to diagnose the condition, medical experts always consider a potential sufferer’s past asbestos exposure to assist them in reaching a conclusion on diagnosis. They will also consider the radiological appearances of the fibrosis on x-rays and CT scans and assess a sufferers lung function test results to look for reduced gas transfer factor in particular. It is often difficult for medical experts to decide between a diagnosis of asbestos related fibrosis in comparison to non-asbestos related fibrosis or Usual Interstitial Pneumonia (UIP), interstitial fibrosis or cryptogenic fibrosing alveolitis as it is sometimes described by asbestos disease experts. It is often the case that the cause of a sufferer’s fibrosis is unknown or “idiopathic” in type.
The condition is usually, but not always, slow to progress in sufferers and can lead to respiratory failure as a result. However, it is rare for sufferers to pass away as a direct result of the condition itself. Rather, sufferers develop other complications associated with asbestosis such as pneumonia which can lead to their passing.
Like mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases, asbestosis is an incurable condition. The only way to prevent occurrences of the condition is to reduce exposure to asbestos dust and fibres.
In contrast with asbestosis, asbestos related mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer, usually affecting the lining of the lung which is known as the pleura or the lining of the abdomen which is described as diagnosed, peritoneal mesothelioma.
Sufferers of mesothelioma experience devastating symptoms including significant chest, stomach and shoulder pain, severe breathing problems, loss of appetite, weight loss as well as tiredness and fatigue. The condition can present itself as a tumour or a pleural effusion which shows up on CT scans and x-rays as a build up of fluid at the base of the lung and can be hard to diagnose. Unlike asbestosis, in cases involving mesothelioma, medical practitioners can make use of pleural biopsy procedures to assist in diagnosing the condition. Samples from the pleura or tumour are sent through to histopathology departments for review and subsequent tests reveal whether the sufferer can be diagnosed with mesothelioma as opposed to other conditions such as benign pleural effusions or lung cancer.
The condition is not dose related and can develop in people who have breathed in only one fibre of asbestos, usually 10 to 40 years prior to the onset of symptoms. This is in complete contrast to those who have been diagnosed with asbestosis who have almost always been exposed to significant quantities of asbestos dust in the past.
Mesothelioma is almost always swift to progress with most sufferers sadly passing away from the condition itself within 12 to 24 months on average from the onset of symptoms. Whilst chemotherapy, radiotherapy and invasive surgery may slow down the progression of the condition and prolong a sufferer’s life, this cannot be guaranteed and there is no known cure for the condition.
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