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Asbestos Exposure

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Asbestos Exposure: Causes and Risks continued...

Several factors are involved in how asbestos exposure affects an individual. These include:

  • How much asbestos a person was exposed to
  • How long the person was exposed
  • The size, shape and chemical makeup of the asbestos fibers
  • The presence of other lung diseases

Smoking also increases the risk of problems related to asbestos exposure.

There are different forms of asbestos. Although all forms are considered hazardous, different types of asbestos fibers may be associated with different health risks. For example, the results of several studies suggest that amphibole forms (which have longer, more durable fibers) may be more harmful than chrysotile forms (which have curly fibers), particularly for mesothelioma risk, because they tend to stay in the lungs longer.

Asbestos cancer and other health problems take many years to develop. Most cases of lung cancer or asbestosis in asbestos workers occur 15 or more years after initial exposure to asbestos. For mesothelioma, the lag time is even longer. The time between initial asbestos exposure and mesothelioma commonly has been 30 years or more.

Asbestos Symptoms

The respiratory tract is the most common site of asbestos exposure symptoms. Symptoms differ depending on the particular problem.

The main symptom of asbestosis is shortness of breath. Other symptoms may include:

  • Persistent cough that produces mucus
  • Chest tightness
  • Chest pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry, crackling sound in lungs while inhaling

Symptoms of lung cancer can include:

  • Cough (including coughing up blood)
  • Wheezing
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent chest pain
  • Hoarseness
  • Anemia

The main symptoms of mesothelioma of the lungs are shortness of breath and chest pain. Symptoms of abdominal mesothelioma can include:

  • Weight loss
  • Swelling and pain in the abdomen
  • Blood clotting abnormalities
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Anemia
  • Fever

Because many conditions share these symptoms, having these symptoms doesn't necessarily mean you have asbestos-related cancer or lung damage. If you experience symptoms, it's important to see your doctor.

Diagnosing Asbestos-Related Problems

Diagnosing asbestos-related health problems can take some time. The diagnostic process will begin with a medical history and physical exam. Your doctor will ask you about other medical problems you have as well as any history of asbestos exposure. Depending on the findings of the exam and history, your doctor may order tests including the following:

  • X-rays of the chest and/or abdomen
  • Lung function tests
  • CT scans
  • MRI

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