What Are the Causes of Bilateral Pleural Thickening?

One side of the plural cavity containing the lung and other organs
One side of the plural cavity containing the lung and other organs (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

The pleural cavity, in humans, refers to the body cavity that surrounds the lungs. This cavity is composed of a bi-layered membrane termed pleura. Bilateral pleural thickening refers to thickening of this membrane in both lungs, normally resulting from inflammation. A variety of potential causes trigger inflammation of the pleura.

Asbestos Exposure

Chronic exposure to asbestos is one of the most common causes of pleural thickening. The tiny asbestos particles can bypass the lung filtration system and enter the lungs, where they imbed within the tissue, resulting in inflammation and scarring. Asbestos-related thickening normally occurs in conjunction with other medical conditions, including fibrosis and pleural effusion. Although asbestos disease is a serious condition, it is very treatable with medication that allows improved breathing by reducing inflammation. However, asbestos-related thickening has been linked to formation of a serious form of cancer called mesothelioma.


Mesothelioma is a relatively rare and malignant form of cancer of the lining of the body’s internal organs, call mesothelium. The most common site of mesothelioma development is the pleura of the lungs resulting from chronic exposure to certain particles or chemicals, including asbestos. Symptoms of mesothelioma are analogous to other conditions that result in pleural thickening, including coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain. The presence of these symptoms in less threatening conditions makes mesothelioma very difficult to diagnose. Even with proper diagnosis, the current available treatments of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are often unsuccessful.

Bacterial Infection

Tuberculosis, which results from infection of the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis, causes inflammation and subsequent pleural thickening of the mesothelium within the lung cavity.


Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disorder characterized by inflammation of various tissues within the body, including mesothelium. Thus, pleural thickening may manifest and cause serious complications with the disease.

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