Pleural Effusion

Causes and Symptoms of Pleural Effusions

Pleural effusion is an accumulation of fluid between the membranes lining the lungs and the chest cavity. Many diseases and medical conditions can cause pleural effusions, including congestive heart failure, pneumonia, infections, kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and tuberculosis. It can also occur as a result of asbestos exposure, presumably due to inflammation caused by asbestos and the conditions it leads to.

Though not as common as other asbestos-disease-related side effects such as pleural thickening and pleural plaques, pleural effusions can cause pain or extreme discomfort. They can also be a sign of severe diseases such as asbestosis (pulmonary fibrosis) or malignant mesothelioma. If you believe a past employer or other party is responsible for your exposure to asbestos and the effects it has had on your health, you should consider speaking with a mesothelioma lawyer. An experienced attorney will be able to evaluate your case and determine your chances of reaching a settlement or receiving financial compensation in the form of a court award.

Causes of Pleural Effusion

The mesothelia, or membranes that surround the body’s major organs, contain cells that produce small amounts of fluid that acts as a lubricant, allowing the organs to rub up against each other without causing damage.

Two examples of mesothelia are the pleurae — the mesothelia that encase the lungs (visceral pleura) and chest cavity (parietal pleura), which come into contact with one another during the expansion and contraction of the lungs. The fluid that fills the space between the visceral pleura and parietal pleura is called pleural fluid.

When the proper level of pleural fluid is being produced, it is easily absorbed by capillaries and lymph nodes. However, certain medical conditions, including pleural thickening, asbestosis, and malignant mesothelioma, can cause the pleurae to produce too much fluid: this is called pleural effusion.

There are two types of pleural fluid — exudative and transudative — and thus two types of pleural effusion: transudative pleural effusion and exudative pleural effusion. The latter is often caused by asbestosis and asbestos lung cancer, or mesothelioma. These diseases can lead to irritation, swelling, and inflammation, which in turn causes the blood vessels in the pleurae to leak extra fluid into the pleural space. When examined under a microscope, exudative fluid can be identified by its viscosity (thick, sticky consistency) and cloudy appearance.

Pleural Effusion Symptoms

Though some asbestosis and pleural mesothelioma patients with pleural effusions experience no symptoms at all, others may experience any of the following:

  •  Fever
  •  A cough
  •  Hiccups
  •  Chest pain
  • Chest pressure
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Rapid breathing

Symptoms involving the chest and breathing can also be caused by other side effects of asbestos diseases, including pleural thickening. As a result, pleural effusions sometimes go unnoticed or undiagnosed until discovered in a chest X-ray.

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