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Pleural Effusion

The human chest cavity includes a special lining to protect and cushion the lungs called the pleura. Pleura are an important part of the respiratory system and work to minimize the friction between the lungs and rib cage with two thin layers around the chest cavity and a small amount of viscous fluid in between. This system works to provide a protective barrier and lubricant. The pleural membrane and the intrapleural space between its two layers function to smooth the inflation and deflation of the lungs with the perfect balance of pleural fluid secreted by mesothelial cells to allow the layers to glide over each other with every breath. Unfortunately, there are several medical conditions that may interfere with the perfect balance of pleural fluid, including pleural effusion.

Sometimes called “water on the lungs,” pleural effusion occurs when there is a buildup of excess fluid between the two layers of pleura surrounding the lungs. Because there are many causes of pleural effusion, treatment and prognosis largely depend on identifying the cause. One cause of pleural effusion is asbestos exposure. Benign asbestos pleural effusion or BAPE is a serious diagnosis and causes significant pain during inhalation and exhalation. Pleural effusion is sometimes a symptom of malignant pleural mesothelioma. If you’ve been diagnosed with pleural effusion and have known asbestos exposure, you may have a valid claim for compensation for your injury. 

The attorneys at Bailey & Glasser LLP are ready to represent you in your claim for financial compensation if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer or other asbestos-related illnesses.

Common Causes of Pleural Effusion

According to the National Cancer Institute, pleural effusion is a common diagnosis, with over 100,000 cases diagnosed annually in the U.S. Excess fluid between the two layers of the pleura results from a number of conditions, some more serious than others.

Some common causes of pleural effusion include:

  • Heart failure
  • Cirrhosis
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Heart surgery post-op complication
  • Pneumonia
  • Kidney disease
  • Inflammatory diseases
  • Mesothelioma
  • Asbestos-related pleural effusion
  • Tuberculosis
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Chest trauma or infection
  • Lung cancer
  • Breast cancer

Some medications, radiation therapy, and chest surgery may also cause pleural effusion. The risk factors for pleural effusion include alcohol abuse, smoking, history of high blood pressure, and history of asbestos exposure, including working with asbestos materials or living with someone who worked with asbestos, as well as living or working in a building constructed with materials containing asbestos.

The prognosis of a patient with pleural effusion depends on the cause, specifically whether the cause is benign or malignant.

Researchers estimate that nearly 50 percent of metastatic cancer patients develop pleural effusion and malignant pleural effusion is a symptom of both lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers.

Symptoms of Pleural Effusion

Symptoms of pleural effusion depend on the severity of the fluid buildup between the pleural layers. Symptoms may range from shortness of breath to chest pain.

Common symptoms of pleural effusion include the following:

  • Feeling of pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sharp pain during inhalation and exhalation
  • Non-productive or dry cough
  • Inability to breathe unless sitting upright or standing (Orthopnea)
  • Rapid breathing
  • Hiccups

Your physician may use a chest X-ray, ultrasound, or CT scan to diagnose pleural effusion. Doctors may also test the fluid to determine its cause by looking for infection, cell counts, protein levels, acidity, and cancer cells.

Pleural Effusion and Mesothelioma

CDC statistics from 2019 show 2,911 new cases of mesothelioma diagnosed that year — the most recent data collection available. Deaths from mesothelioma in 2019 totaled 2,442, or 1 death per every 100,000 people.

More than 20 million people in the United States alone face the risk of developing mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure which is the primary cause of this type of cancer. While it’s a relatively rare cancer, over 82 percent of mesothelioma cases were the pleural type rather than the less common testicular and pericardial mesothelioma cancers.

Many people in the U.S. worked with materials containing asbestos or in buildings constructed with asbestos building materials during the many decades before the EPA linked the versatile material — used in everything from drywall and automobile brake linings to clothing — with cancer. Research dating as far back as 1942 reveals that inhaled chrysotile fibers from asbestos resulted in malignant tumors in mice. A partial ban on asbestos in 1989 brought awareness to the issue, but the EPA proposed further restrictions in April of 2022 by prohibiting all ongoing uses of asbestos products. Because asbestos is flexible, insulating, and fire-resistant, it was commonly used in shingles, pipes, ceiling tiles, cement, adhesives, and drywall.

According to the Mesothelioma Foundation, asbestos includes metal ions in the shape of microscopically tiny needles. As asbestos-containing products break down, they release these needle-shaped dust particles into the air. While an exposed person breathes, the fibers lodge inside the lungs and abdomen where they cause inflammation, eventual cell mutation, malignancy, and tumors. Pleural effusion and pleural mesothelioma occur in some individuals after the fibers become lodged in the pleura surrounding the lungs. In other cases, the fibers may travel to other parts of the body and cause other forms of mesothelioma including pericardial and testicular mesothelioma. It may take between 20 and 60 years for asbestos damage in the body to cause cell mutations that become malignant.

Treatment of Pleural Effusion and Pleural Mesothelioma

The treatment of pleural effusion varies depending on the underlying cause of the condition. When pressure from pleural effusion causes shortness of breath, doctors may perform draining procedures including therapeutic thoracentesis or installation of a chest tube. Treatment may include diuretics, sclerosing agents, and in the case of malignancy, surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Today’s most current treatment options may prolong life and improve quality of life for patients with pleural mesothelioma but have not significantly improved the survival rate which is typically no longer than 22 months with only a 10% 5-year survival rate.

You Might Be Eligible for Compensation for Pleural Effusion and Pleural Mesothelioma

There are many resources available to victims of asbestos-related pleural effusion and pleural mesothelioma depending on how your exposure occurred. The attorneys at Bailey & Glasser, LLP can help you gain compensation for your medical expenses and secure financial recovery for your family.

Some resources available for your claim include:

While nothing makes up for the loss and suffering caused by pleural mesothelioma and pleural effusion, you can gain access to multiple resources and compensatory damages by contacting our Asbestos and Lung Disease team today. Learn more about your opportunities to gain the compensation you deserve.