Original article

Scand J Work Environ Health 2005;31(1):44-51    pdf


Impairment of lung function in asbestos-exposed workers in relation to high-resolution computed tomography

by Piirilä P, Lindqvist M, Huuskonen O, Kaleva S, Koskinen H, Lehtola H, Vehmas T, Kivisaari L, Sovijärvi ARA

Objectives The aim of the study was to determine the causes of impairment of ventilatory function and diffusing capacity in smoking asbestos-exposed workers (N=590) showing radiological pleural thickenings or pulmonary fibrosis.

Methods High-resolution computed tomography (HRCT) and spirometry were performed, and diffusing capacity was measured. The workers were divided into five groups based on the HRCT scoring: pleural disease (N=190), pulmonary fibrosis (N=68), emphysema (N=148), combined fibrosis and emphysema (N=74), and marked adhesions (N=110). The graded lung function impairment was compared between the groups.

Results Moderate impairment of forced expiratory volume in 1 second [odds ratio (OR) 2.72, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.31–5.57] and forced vital capacity (OR 2.81, 95% CI 1.05–6.89) was associated with the persons with combined fibrosis and emphysema. Marked impairment of diffusing capacity was associated with the combined fibrosis and emphysema (OR 4.94, 95% CI 2.48–9.77) but not with pleural disease (OR 0.21, 95% CI 0.09–0.45) or pulmonary fibrosis (OR 0.36, 95% CI 0.08–1.05). For the persons with combined fibrosis and emphysema, the mean fibrosis score did not differ between normal, slightly reduced, or markedly reduced diffusing capacity, but the emphysema score was significantly higher for the patients with marked impairment than for those with normal diffusing capacity (P<0.01).

Conclusions Different profiles of asbestos- and smoking-induced pulmonary or pleural disease were found. The results indicate that the most important factor determining the degree of functional impairment in smoking asbestos-exposed workers the presence of pulmonary emphysema.