Misdiagnosing Asbestosis as Chronic Heart Failure

Our Virginia personal injury law firm has written extensively about the extensive asbestos exposure railroad workers had for decades until the use of asbestos was replaced by other insulation materials. Asbestos was used in brakes, boilers, gaskets, pipes, and other materials and equipment, exposing workers to asbestos fibers on a daily basis. Although asbestos is no longer being used, the deadly effects continue to affect the lives of thousands of railroad workers because of the 15-to-60-year latency period for asbestos-related cancers and other conditions to develop.

Unfortunately, because asbestos-related diseases are rare for people in the general population, doctors often fail to make the connection between a patient’s symptoms and their potential exposure to asbestos fibers because of past work experience. One example of this is asbestosis and the shortness of breath and decreases oxygen levels in the blood the condition causes. Doctors often incorrectly diagnose patients with congestive heart failure because the symptoms are similar.

What Is Asbestosis?

Railroad workers who were exposed to asbestos breathed in those tiny, microscopic fibers. Those fibers accumulated in the workers’ lungs, causing the tissues to become irritated and eventually scarring. If the worker breathed these fibers over an extended period of time, the continued scarring of lung tissue diminishes the lungs’ ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide, limiting the lung’s capacity, and leaving the person constantly short of breath. Over time, the lungs become stiff, similar to a sponge that is dried up, causing the person intensive effort to expand on the parts of the surrounding muscles when the person attempts to inhale.

Pericardial Mesothelioma

Another asbestos-related disease that is also often misdiagnosed as chronic heart failure is pericardial mesothelioma. The pericardium is the membrane that lines the heart. Inhaled asbestos fibers can also reach the pericardium, causing mesothelioma to develop. The symptoms of this rare type of cancer include anemia, chest pain, circulatory issues, fatigue, heart murmurs, irregular heart rhythm, and weight loss – all symptoms that also appear in patients who have chronic heart failure.


While there is no cure for either of these asbestos-related diseases, the sooner they are diagnosed, the better the outcome for the patient. But, as mentioned above, because these conditions are so rare, many doctors fail to consider the patient’s prior history of railroad employment and their high level of exposure to asbestos. This is why it is recommended that both current and former railroad workers be screened on an annual basis by a doctor who specializes in asbestos-related diseases.

Any worker who has the following symptoms should immediately see their doctor and make sure that any medical professional they see because of these symptoms are aware of their past exposure to asbestos:

  • Loss of appetite, weight, and fatigue
  • Pain and tightness in the chest
  • Persistent dry coughing
  • Shortness of breath and crackling sound

Failure to diagnose or misdiagnose asbestos-related cancer or disease causes delayed treatment, wrong treatment, or no treatment at all. Having the correct diagnosis is critical to maintaining the quality of health. It is also critical in applying for financial compensation for the asbestos exposure under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA).

Contact a Virginia Mesothelioma Attorney Today

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or any other asbestos-related disease, contact Shapiro, Appleton & Washburn to meet with a Virginia FELA attorney to discuss what legal options you may have. It is imperative that you do not delay because, under FELA, victims only have three years from the time they know or should have known that their disease or death was connected to their work with the railroad. Call our office today at 800-752-0042.


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