Pulmonary Fibrosis could be caused by asbestos exposure, research suggests

17th September 2014

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) could be triggered by either environmental or occupational exposure to asbestos, new research suggests.

Symptoms of IPF – a chronic and ultimately fatal lung disease – are identical to those of asbestosis and may be caused by asbestos. This is due to the “same pattern of usual interstitial pneumonitis seen radiologically in both conditions,” according to Dr. Carl Reynolds, MBBS, MSc, an honorary fellow at Imperial College London.

Dr. Reynolds outlined his analysis of mortality data in England and Wales at the European Respiratory Society (ERS) International Congress 2014, medscape.com reports. Along with colleagues, Dr. Reynolds analysed data from the Office of National Statistics to study the relationship between IPF, asbestosis and mesothelioma deaths between 1974 and 2012.

He found that deaths from IPF increased from fewer than 500 in 1974 to more than 2,000 by 2012. As the highest rates of death were found to be in regions that have a noted history with asbestos exposure, a connection was made, eurekalert.org notes.

Dr. Sherwood Burge, head of occupational lung disease at Birmingham Heartlands Hospital, said: “Now, we’re seeing more people who have a history of asbestos exposure. They have much more than average exposure to asbestos, but much, much less exposure than we used to believe was required to develop asbestosis. Now they are presenting with usual interstitial pneumonitis. Some people use to call that IPF, but I think you can make a reasonable case that some are due to asbestos.”

“The fact that asbestosis is going up implies that you can’t model that on recent exposure; there has to be something in the past, and it has to be duration of exposure to asbestos to account for this increase.”

Anyone with known asbestos exposure who isn’t currently taking new IPF medication is advised to speak to their doctor.