What Effects Can Asbestos Have on the Body?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was found to have great heat and fire resistant qualities to it. Unfortunately, studies have shown that long-term exposure to asbestos can lead to serious, if not deadly, health problems.

Generally, exposure to asbestos will affect the lungs and abdominal areas. Here is a breakdown of the more common illness associated with asbestos exposure.


Asbestosis is not a cancer. Rather, it is a long-term illness that causes the lungs to develop scar tissue. This scar tissue can reduce your breathing capacity, making it difficult for oxygen and carbon monoxide to enter and exit the lungs properly. Asbestosis is a slow progressing disease and can take 10 to 20 years to develop after the initial exposure to asbestos. This disease can range from showing little or no symptoms to being potentially fatal. Symptoms include:

    • Shortness of breath
    • Persistent cough producing mucus
    • Tightness in the chest
    • Chest pain
    • Loss of appetite
    • Dry, crackling sound in the lungs while inhaling

Pleural Plaques

The pleura is the thin lining surrounding the lungs. Pleural plaques are changes that occur in that thin lining due to low or intermittent exposure to asbestos. While pleural plaques are not concerned pre-cancerous, or a symptom of a more dangerous ailment to come, they may slightly affect some lung functions.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the most common asbestos-related cancer and accounts for 1 of every 5 deaths among asbestos workers. It may take as much as 40 or 50 years for lung cancer to develop after the initial long-term exposure to asbestos. Asbestos workers who also smoke increase their risk of lung cancer by 50 to 90 times. While it can be very difficult to detect initially, symptoms of lung cancer include:

    • Cough producing blood or heavy amounts of phlegm
    • Shortness of breath
    • Hoarseness when speaking
    • Significant weight loss
    • Swelling in face or arms
    • Severe headaches or migraines
    • Vision problems
    • Chest, back, neck, stomach or bone pain


The mesothelioma is a thin membrane that protects most internal organs (heart, lungs) and lines the body cavity (chest, abdomen). Malignant (cancerous) mesothelioma is commonly associated with long-term exposure to asbestos. As with other health issues relating to asbestos exposure, mesothelioma symptoms may not appear for years or decades. While all asbestos exposure symptoms are similar, a diagnosis of mesothelioma is generally found to be fatal, with death occurring within months.

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