Six patients with radiographic evidence of diffuse pleural thickening after industrial asbestos exposure are described. Five had computed tomography of the thorax. All the scans showed marked circumferential pleural thickening often with calcification, and four showed no significant evidence of intrapulmonary fibrosis (asbestosis). Lung function testing showed reduction of the inspiratory capacity and the single-breath carbon monoxide transfer factor (TLCO). The transfer coefficient, calculated as the TLCO divided by the alveolar volume determined by helium dilution during the measurement of TLCO, was increased. Pseudo-static compliance curves showed markedly more negative intrapleural pressures at all lung volumes than found in normal people. These results suggest that the circumferential pleural thickening was preventing normal lung expansion despite abnormally great distending pressures. The pattern of lung function tests is sufficiently distinctive for it to be recognised in clinical practice, and suggests that the lungs are held rigidly within an abnormal pleura. The pleural thickening in our patients may have been related to the condition described as "benign asbestos pleurisy" rather than the interstitial fibrosis of asbestosis.
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