Understanding, Managing, and Living with the

Health Effects of Asbestos

Researchers: Possible Link between IPF and Asbestosis

September 26, 2014

New Orleans, LA When patients know they have been exposed to asbestos, it might be easier for them to understand how they have developed asbestosis or other asbestos-related diseases. But not everyone realizes they have been exposed to asbestos, and asbestosis is remarkably similar to another lung condition, pulmonary fibrosis. The two are so similar that some researchers believe that some cases of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) might actually be asbestosis.

Pulmonary fibrosis, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, is a disease in which the tissue in the lung thickens and stiffens, preventing it from moving oxygen into the bloodstream. The reduction of oxygen in the bloodstream prevents the brain and other organs from receiving enough oxygen to function. IPF has no cure, with mortality being around three to five years from diagnosis. Causes of death linked to IPF include respiratory failure and heart failure.

If doctors cannot find a cause of the pulmonary fibrosis, it is labeled “idiopathic.”

Some researchers, however, suspect that some cases of idiopathic pulmonary hypertension are in fact asbestosis but because the patient is not aware of asbestos exposure, they are diagnosed with IPF. A press release from the European Lung Foundation (9/9/14) describes the link between the two.

“Asbestosis is the name given to the lung disease developed by people with a known history of exposure to asbestos. The symptoms and presentation of this disease can be identical to IPF; the only difference between the two diseases is whether a patient knows about their exposure to asbestos.”

Researchers in Europe analyzed mortality rates for IPF, asbestosis and mesothelioma from 1974 to 2012. They found a correlation between the three, suggesting that some IPF cases may be linked to asbestos exposure. Specifically, researchers found an increase in the number of deaths from IPF from fewer than 500 in 1974 to more than 2,000 in 2012. While mesothelioma had a similar increase, asbestosis mortality showed only a small increase.

Perhaps most telling was that high rates of IPF were seen in areas of England where shipyard work was done, increasing the likelihood that IPF patients were exposed to asbestos, according to Medscape (9/15/14).

Researchers noted that more research would have to be done to confirm the findings. Results of the study were presented in September at the European Respiratory Society’s International Congress.