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Written on 11th February 2016 by Laura Magson

Exposure to asbestos can cause several benign conditions. The most common is pleural plaques which is often described as scarring or shadowing on the lungs. Asbestos can also cause pleural thickening which can be localised or diffuse. Sometimes pleural plaques are also described as pleural thickening. This can make it difficult to advise sufferers of their right to bring a claim because it is sometimes not clear which condition has been diagnosed and as we will see below, a sufferer’s right to bring a claim for compensation will depend on which condition that have.

What are pleural plaques?

Probably the most common condition caused by asbestos exposure is pleural plaques. Plaques are small areas of thickening, usually on the parietal outer pleura (the lining of the lung). Calcium can become deposited in plaques over time meaning that plaques may be referred to as calcified.

The condition is sometimes referred to as scarring or shadowing on the lungs or as discrete areas of pleural thickening. They are known to develop after exposure to a lower level of asbestos that is required to cause asbestosis or lung cancer. It usually takes at least 20 years for pleural plaques to develop after exposure to asbestos.

I’ve been diagnosed with pleural plaques. Should I be worried?

Pleural plaques is a benign condition, which rarely causes the sufferer to experience any symptoms. Plaques are thought by many to simply be harmless markers of the fact that a person has been exposed to asbestos.

You should not be worried about receiving a diagnosis of pleural plaques but it is advisable to see your GP regularly and report and new symptoms such as breathlessness to your doctor without delay.

Whilst pleural plaques rarely in themselves cause any symptoms or problems, they do show that a person had had asbestos exposure, which can of course cause other more serious conditions.

Can I claim compensation for pleural plaques?

Pleural plaques are no longer compensatable if caused by exposure to asbestos which occurred in England and/or Wales, unless the condition is causing the sufferer symptoms such as breathlessness, which is rare.

The law is different in Scotland and Northern Ireland and therefore if a person diagnosed with plaques has ever been exposed to asbestos in Scotland or Northern Ireland they may be able to claim compensation, regardless of whether the plaques are causing symptoms. Specialist legal advice should be taken following diagnosis. A solicitor will be able to advise you whether you may be able to make a claim and about what to do if your diagnosis changes in the future.

What is diffuse pleural thickening?

Diffuse pleural thickening is also thickening of the pleural surfaces of the lung but usually the visceral inner surface, although it can also affect the outer parietal pleura. On a chest x-ray it will appear as a smooth, non-interrupted area of thickening, extending over a significant proportion of the chest wall with obliteration of the costophrenic angle (the base of the chest where the diaphragm meets the lower rib cage). It can affect one lung (unilateral) or both lungs (bilateral). It is sometimes associated with bands and rounded atelectasis (folded lung).

Diffuse pleural thickening can be caused by asbestos exposure but sometimes can be the result of other factors such as tuberculosis, infection (empyema) or bleeding in the pleural space, for example due to a rib fracture. The condition can be asymptomatic but does, more often than pleural plaques, cause the sufferer to experience symptoms such as breathlessness and chest pain.

Those diagnosed with diffuse pleural thickening may be sent for lung function tests. If the condition is causing symptoms this usually shows a restrictive defect in lung function. Like pleural plaques, diffuse pleural thickening usually takes at least 20 years to develop after exposure to asbestos.

Can I claim compensation for diffuse pleural thickening?

If you have been diagnosed with diffuse pleural thickening caused be asbestos exposure and you also have symptoms due to the thickening, then you may be able to claim compensation.

If you have been diagnosed with diffuse pleural thickening and have had asbestos exposure, it is important to discuss your potential claim with a specialist solicitor immediately who will be able to advise you further about pursuing a claim now and protecting your position in the unfortunate event that the pleural thickening becomes more extensive in the future or you are diagnosed with a more serious asbestos related disease such as asbestosisasbestos related lung cancer or mesothelioma.