Long-term exposure to asbestos can lead to serious health consequences. Historically, many people faced substantial asbestos exposure before anyone realized the potential dangers. Worse, some old buildings may still retain their former construction, including high levels of asbestos in vinyl tiles or, most commonly, insulation. Many diseases, including both benign and malignant conditions, have their roots in asbestos exposure.
Unfortunately, the consequences of asbestos exposure are still a serious concern to regulators, personal injury attorneys, and most importantly, to persons exposed to asbestos. Below, we’ll explore some of the most common consequences of asbestos exposure, and establish precisely why contaminated asbestos is still such a serious threat.
Between 2 and 10 percent of people who face heavy exposure to asbestos develop mesothelioma, a type of cancer that impacts the tissue that surrounds most internal organs. Most often, mesothelioma affects the tissue around the lungs. For some patients, however, it may impact other organs, including the stomach, heart, or testicles.
In addition to more specific symptoms related to the type of mesothelioma, patients may face fever, excessive sweating, weight loss that occurs unexpectedly or with no effort on the part of the patient, or loss of appetite. More seriously, patients may suffer from blood clots, which may start patients on the path to medical attention.
Mesothelioma’s aggressive nature makes it incredibly difficult to treat. While treatments do exist, patients do not always experience results from those treatments. Often, they aim to increase lifespan, rather than curing mesothelioma entirely.
Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma, or mesothelioma located in the chest, include pain in the chest or lower breath, ongoing cough, shortness of breath, trouble swallowing, hoarseness, and swelling in the face and arms. Many victims with mesothelioma fail to notice the early symptoms of the disease, at least in part because they mimic the symptoms of other, more common ailments. Victims who do not know about their asbestos exposure may put off seeing a doctor or receiving treatment for some time, allowing the condition to worsen.
Patients with abdominal symptoms of mesothelioma may notice swelling of the abdomen, nausea and vomiting, or constipation as well as pain in the abdominal area. Like the symptoms of pleural mesothelioma, these symptoms often go unnoticed by the victim until they progress to a much more serious problem. Delayed treatment can substantially hurt your prognosis.
Pericardial mesothelioma, which affects the heart, can cause chest pain and irregular heartbeat, or may manifest as a heart murmur. Patients may also struggle with shortness of breath.
Patients with ovarian cancer may note a feeling of fullness that comes on immediately after eating, and after eating comparatively little food. Patients may notice discomfort in the pelvic area, constipation, or a frequent need to urinate. Patients commonly experience bloating or swelling in the abdominal region; or, conversely, may experience weight loss without trying.
Often, the symptoms of ovarian cancer end up mistaken for other things, including several benign conditions, until further in the progression of the disease. Ovarian cancer, left untreated, can spread throughout the body, though it often remains for some time in the abdominal region and affects the stomach, liver, and kidneys.
Lung cancer often starts with a cough that refuses to go away or that seems to get worse over time, especially in the absence of fever or other symptoms. Unfortunately, lung cancer, like many other types of cancers, does not show severe symptoms until it starts to spread throughout the body, which can make treatment more difficult. Patients may notice chest pain that gets worse when laughing or breathing hard, or they may notice shortness of breath. Over time, that can progress to coughing up bloody or rust-colored mucus.
Patients may feel tired or weak, struggling to participate in activities that they usually enjoy or pursue with ease. Lung cancer can also show up as infections like pneumonia or bronchitis that never seem to clear up entirely or that go away for a short period of time, but then come back very quickly. Patients may also note a sudden onset of wheezing.
As lung cancer spreads through the body, it can cause a wealth of other symptoms, including bone pain, including pain in the back and hips, dizziness, yellowing skin or eyes, or swelling lymph nodes. Treatment for lung cancer usually proves particularly effective if patients can catch it in the early stages; however, even later-stage treatment can have positive results.
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The initial symptoms of laryngeal cancer may show up as a sore throat or ear pain: fairly common symptoms that can mask serious underlying concerns. Typically, laryngeal cancer forms in the part of the throat that contains the vocal cords. As cancer spreads throughout the vocal cords, the vocal cords can stop working.
Treatment for laryngeal cancer may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy, either alone or in combination. Early treatment often proves critical for preventing the spread of laryngeal cancer and extending the victim’s lifespan.
Bile Duct Cancer
Symptoms of bile duct cancer may begin with the patient simply feeling unwell: not having adequate energy or struggling to participate in normal activities. Fatigue may increase markedly over time. Patients may run a high fever or feel “hot and shivery,” or they may notice a loss of appetite. Patients may also notice changes in both bladder and bowel habits as urine darkens and excrement pales. The skin and whites of the eyes may yellow or feel itchy, especially as bile duct cancer progresses.
Treatment may begin with surgery to remove the impacted bile duct, especially if cancer has not had a chance to spread. Patients may also need radiation or chemotherapy to aid in the treatment of bile duct cancer.
Hyaline Pleural Plaques
Pleural plaques, while not malignant like the many forms of cancer often caused by asbestos exposure, can serve as a red flag that lets patients know that they have a high risk of developing an asbestos-related disease. Pleural plaques develop on the membranes that line the lungs and fill the inside of the patient’s chest cavity. Many patients do not realize that they have pleural plaques, since they frequently do not cause noticeable symptoms. Others, however, may feel pain or notice a grating sensation when they breathe, which can cause ongoing discomfort.
In approximately 20 percent of cases, pleural plaques calcify, or harden, leading to hardened scar tissue in the lungs. These plaques may, in some rare cases, inhibit breathing or cause pain and discomfort.
Recent studies have suggested that pleural plaques may cause a mild to moderate decrease in lung function, though most patients do not notice this decrease in function. Pleural plaques that inhibit lung function generally do so because they fill the space in the chest cavity, leaving the lungs with less room to inflate.
Asbestosis results only from ongoing exposure to asbestos. Symptoms usually do not crop up until between 10 and 40 years after the initial exposure to asbestos, and the severity of symptoms may depend on the length of exposure. Symptoms may include shortness of breath and an ongoing dry cough as well as unexpected or unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, or clubbing of the fingers and toes. Patients may also suffer from chest tightness or pain, which can restrict them from engaging in the activities they enjoy.
Treatment for asbestosis usually focuses primarily on symptom management. Patients with asbestosis have an increased risk of developing lung cancer, so doctors may watch their patients more carefully to ensure that they do not show more serious symptoms.
Pleural thickening occurs when ongoing exposure to asbestos causes extreme thickening of the lining of the lungs, or pleura. Symptoms typically include chest pain and difficulty breathing, including shortness of breath when participating in even mild or moderate exercise. Patients may also experience pain when coughing.
Most of the time, pleural thickening does not cause serious problems on its own. Treatment, therefore, focuses on managing symptoms to improve the overall quality of life and make the patient more comfortable. However, pleural thickening could indicate an increased risk for mesothelioma, or could occur in conjunction with mesothelioma, so its presence could indicate a need for further evaluation.
Pleural effusion involves a buildup of fluid around the lungs, in the pleura, or the lining that surrounds the lungs. Normally, the pleura contain relatively small amounts of watery fluid, allowing the lungs to move smoothly as they expand and contract with each breath.
Pleural effusion, on the other hand, means an increasing buildup of that fluid. The severity of this condition depends heavily on the amount of fluid buildup, since fluid buildup can, over time, cause chest pain, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing. Pleural effusion could also indicate an increased risk of developing mesothelioma.
Atelectasis occurs when a lung or area of the lung collapses, either partially or completely. Often, this occurs as a surgical complication. In patients with asbestos exposure, however, atelectasis usually occurs due to fluid or foreign matter in the lungs, usually due to buildup from asbestos fibers over time.
Atelectasis can cause extreme difficulty in breathing, especially in patients who also have other lung conditions. Patients may notice difficulty breathing, wheezing, cough, or rapid, shallow breathing, even in the absence of exercise or other stimuli. Complications can include low blood oxygen, increased risk of pneumonia, or even respiratory failure.
Peritoneal effusion, or the accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity, often occurs alongside mesothelioma; however, patients with asbestos exposure can suffer from peritoneal effusion without developing mesothelioma. It can cause weight gain, pain and swelling in the abdomen, or even difficulty breathing, especially as fluid accumulation increases. Patients may also suffer from nausea, loss of appetite, and ongoing fatigue. Chest pain can also result from increasing fluid buildup.
Some patients, especially those who suffer from ongoing fluid buildup in the abdomen, may have a catheter inserted to relieve fluid buildup on an ongoing basis and increase overall comfort and quality of life. Despite these efforts, however, peritoneal effusion can cause ongoing suffering for many patients.
Pericardial effusion occurs when fluid builds up around the heart, in the sac called the pericardium. Patients with pericardial effusions often struggle with chest pain which they may alleviate by leaning forward. Chest pain may increase with exertion. Patients may also notice muscle aches, fever, fatigue, and nausea and vomiting along with their other symptoms. Increasing fluid buildup may also cause shortness of breath, especially with exertion or when fully inflating the lungs. Breathing deeply may also increase symptoms of chest pain related to pericardial effusion.
In serious cases, especially those that develop quickly, the patient may notice palpitations, in which the heart appears to beat very rapidly. Patients may also notice dizziness or lightheadedness.
Small pericardial effusions may require little to no treatment, especially if the patient does not have obvious symptoms. If, on the other hand, the patient notices extreme symptoms, especially those that emerge quickly, treatment can prove immediately necessary. In severe cases, especially cases that have accompanying infections, doctors may need to immediately drain the fluid from the pericardium. Severe pericardial effusions can have a substantial impact on cardiac function.
Asbestos exposure can cause a wide range of potential diseases, many of which often manifest early symptoms that seem to be nothing. Prompt examination and treatment, however, can substantially improve the outcomes of many asbestos-related illnesses.
Patients who have any symptoms of asbestos-related diseases, especially those with known asbestos exposure, should seek prompt treatment from a medical professional. If you worked with asbestos in the past, keep in mind that it may take between ten and forty years after your initial exposure for symptoms to fully develop.
If you or a loved one has suffered from asbestos-related diseases, an experienced attorney who has worked with asbestos-related claims in the past can help. While most companies began enacting appropriate safety procedures soon after the truth about asbestos came out, others allowed improper safety procedures to linger for far too long, increasing the risk to workers and leaving them with conditions that might not develop until years later. Do not wait or suffer in silence.
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