Radiographic abnormalities in asbestos insulators: effects of duration from onset of exposure and smoking. Relationships of dyspnea with parenchymal and pleural fibrosis

Am J Ind Med. 1991;20(1):1-15. doi: 10.1002/ajim.4700200102.


Chest radiographs and spirometry were evaluated in 2,907 active and retired asbestos insulators; most (86.8%) had greater than or equal to 30 years from onset of asbestos exposure. Testing was performed in 19 cities in the United States during 1981-1983. Complete demographic, smoking, clinical, and radiologic data were obtained for 2,790 workers. This is the largest single group of insulators that has been studied. Five hundred forty-eight (19.7%) had never smoked cigarettes, 942 (33.9%) were current cigarette smokers, and 1,300 (46.6%) were ex-smokers. Only 439 (15.7%) workers had no radiographic evidence of asbestos-related disease (normal chest X-ray); 668 (23.9%) had pleural fibrosis only, 325 (11.6%) had parenchymal fibrosis alone, and 1,358 (48.7%) had both parenchymal and pleural fibrosis. The prevalence of radiographic parenchymal changes increased significantly (p less than .001) from 38.6% (DURONSET less than 30 years) to 70% (greater than or equal to 40 years). For pleural changes the comparative prevalences were 55% and 82%. Those with no history of cigarette smoking were more likely to have normal films than those with a history of smoking (19.2% versus 14.4% for current smokers and 15.2% among ex-smokers), and were less likely to have parenchymal fibrosis (44.5% versus 69.7% for current smokers and 60.2% of ex-smokers). Dyspnea, MRC grade 3 and higher, was more prevalent when pleural fibrosis was associated with interstitial pulmonary fibrosis (at all profusion levels of small opacities) than when pleural fibrosis was absent. Logistic regression analysis of factors contributing to such dyspnea showed that the presence of combined parenchymal and pleural abnormalities was a significant explanatory variable, in addition to age, smoking, and body mass (Quetelet index); the presence of parenchymal changes only or of pleural changes only, as factors contributing to dyspnea, did not reach the level of statistical significance in the regression analysis. The results of these examinations show that pleural fibrosis is a frequent finding in asbestos-exposed groups with long-term follow-up and that its functional significance is not negligible. The contribution of cigarette smoking to prevalence and severity of interstitial fibrosis is an additional reason for smoking cessation among asbestos-exposed individuals.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Asbestos / adverse effects*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dyspnea / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / etiology
  • Radiography
  • Regression Analysis
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Time Factors


  • Asbestos