Diagnosing asbestosis

When diagnosing asbestosis, your GP will first ask about your symptoms and listen to your lungs with a stethoscope (a medical instrument used to listen to the heart and lungs). If your lungs have been affected by asbestos, they will make a crackling noise when you breathe in.

Your GP will also ask about your work history, particularly about periods when you may have been exposed to asbestos, how long you may have been exposed, and whether you were issued with any safety equipment, such as a face mask, when you were working.

Referral to a specialist

If asbestosis is suspected, you will be referred to a specialist in lung diseases for tests to confirm any lung scarring. These may include: 

  • chest X-ray  to detect abnormalities in the structure of your lungs that could be caused by asbestosis
  • computerised tomography (CT) scan of the lungs  produces more detailed images of the lungs and the membrane covering the lungs, which can help diagnose early stage asbestosis
  • lung function testing (see below)

Lung function testing

Lung function testing can help:

  • assess the impact of damage to the lungs by how well the airways conduct air into the lungs
  • determine the overall size of the lungs 
  • assess how well oxygen crosses the membrane of the lungs into your bloodstream, as this is usually reduced in cases of asbestosis

Before confirming a diagnosis of asbestosis, the chest specialist will consider and rule out other possible causes of lung scarring, such as rheumatoid arthritis. In confirming a diagnosis of asbestosis, the most important factors are the type of asbestos found, and the amount of asbestos exposure.

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