Merck Manual

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Overview of Asbestos-Related Disorders


Abigail R. Lara

, MD, University of Colorado

Last review/revision May 2020 | Modified Sep 2022
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Asbestos is a family of naturally occurring silicates whose heat-resistant and structural properties made it useful for inclusion in construction and shipbuilding materials, automobile brakes, and some textiles. Asbestos is present naturally in low levels in the air, water, and soil; this low level of environmental exposure is not a significant contributor to human disease. Chrysotile (a serpentine fiber), crocidolite, and amosite (amphibole, or straight fibers) are the 3 main types of asbestos that cause disease. Chrysotile fiber accounts for 99% of the asbestos used worldwide. Amphibole fibers account for 1% and are mainly in vermiculite mines.

Asbestos can affect the lung, the pleura, or both.

Asbestos-related disorders are caused by inhalation of asbestos fibers. The disorders include

Asbestos-related plaques and fibrosis are the most common radiographic findings and account for > 90% of asbestos-related pleural findings.Asbestosis and mesothelioma both cause progressive dyspnea, as do extensive effusions and plaques.

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