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Asbestos May Play a Role in Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis

The role of asbestos exposure in highly dangerous conditions such as lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma has been well documented, but a new study presented at the European Respiratory Society’s International Congress has indicated that it may also be responsible for some cases of a condition known as Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, or IPF. IPF is a chronic condition that is always considered to be fatal. It causes scarring of lung tissue that leads to shortness of breath, and has largely been attributed to a history of cigarette smoking because it most commonly occurs in adults between the ages of fifty and seventy years old who have a history of smoking. However, the word “idiopathic” in the condition’s name points to the fact that its cause is unknown. With the information gathered in the recent study, the illness’ cause may have been identified (at least in some patients), and a change of course in treatment protocols may be in order.

The symptoms and characteristics of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis are in many ways similar to those of asbestosis. However, treatment protocols are often based upon the determination of a known exposure, so a person who worked with asbestos may be treated under an asbestosis regimen while somebody with no known exposure to asbestos may automatically be treated for IPF. The researchers analyzed the mortality rates for patients who had been diagnosed with asbestosis, mesothelioma and IPF over a nearly forty year period between 1974 and 2012. Their inquiry was motivated by a suspicion that some of the IPF patients may have been sickened by an exposure to asbestos that they had not been aware of. Part of the reason for their suspicion was an observation of higher rates of IPF deaths arising in regions to the northwest and southeast of England, where there has been a well-documented exposure to asbestos dust from working in shipyards.

Writing on their findings, the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Carl Reynolds of the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, said that though the “findings are consistent with the hypothesis that a proportion of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis cases are likely to be caused by unknown exposure to asbestos,” more research into the issue will need to be done before any kind of substantive changes in treatment protocols are advised.

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer is an experienced blog writer, editor, and proofreader. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. She specializes in providing content for websites and finds tremendous enjoyment in the things she learns while doing her research. Her specific areas of expertise include health, medical research, and law.

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