Congestive Heart Failure, a Possible Misdiagnosis of Severe Asbestos-Related Disease


Medical research has long known the link between asbestos exposure and respiratory diseases, as for more than 70 years, studies have shown the toxicity of this fibrous mineral. Moreover, medical professionals have linked asbestos exposure to a wider variety of cancers recently.

Every industry benefitted from the toxic mineral's outstanding qualities and low price during the last century, and exposure to the dangerous fibers caused harm to thousands of industrial workers who developed asbestos-related diseases many years after their initial interaction with the hazardous material.

The military industry was no exception; every military branch applied asbestos products in various quantities, but the Navy used large amounts of asbestos in building its ships. While effective in its purpose, this measure also put naval personnel at an exceedingly high risk of asbestos exposure. It resulted in thousands of Navy veterans developing life-altering conditions linked to their exposure decades after service.

Asbestos-related diseases often manifest symptoms similar to less severe disorders, making their misdiagnosis a common occurrence. One of these typical symptoms is shortness of breath, many times wrongly attributed to congestive heart failure (CHF) - a long-term condition resulting from the heart's incapability to pump blood well enough to meet the body's needs. With the heart falling short to handle the amount of blood it should, blood builds up in other parts of the body, usually in:

  • lungs
  • legs
  • feet

This process closely resembles the one taking place in the case of an asbestos-related lung disease, increasing the chances of a misdiagnosis. It further complicates things that CHF is the primary cause of hospitalization in individuals older than 65, and more than 6 million people in the U.S. have the condition. Moreover, besides shortness of breath, CHF and asbestos-related lung conditions manifest other very similar symptoms that make the diagnosis extremely challenging, such as:

  • swelling in ankles, legs, and feet
  • cough that doesn't go away
  • chest pain
  • heart palpitations
  • fatigue and weakness
  • wheezing
  • loss of appetite

Most of the time, only doctors with experience in helping patients with lung diseases caused by asbestos exposure can make the connection and investigate the presence of asbestos fibers.

A CHF Misdiagnosis Can Considerably Obstruct Veterans' Prognosis

Even if asbestos regulation was eventually tightened, and the health risks represented by breathing in asbestos fibers became well-known to the public, veterans who served before regulatory actions have likely endured long-term exposure.

Onboard Navy ships built before the 1980s, personnel lived and performed their everyday duties around asbestos products, increasing the chances of inhaling or ingesting airborne toxic fibers disturbed by ongoing tasks such as:

  • maintenance work
  • removal of asbestos materials
  • renovation
  • repairs
  • demolition

As asbestos exposure cases became less frequent, medical professionals may have misdiagnosed asbestos-related illnesses more often based on the symptoms. Receiving the wrong diagnosis leads to veterans following unnecessary treatments and wasting precious time.

One of the severe conditions related to veterans' long-term asbestos exposure is asbestosis. This chronic respiratory disease causes decreased oxygen levels in the blood and is often incorrectly diagnosed as CHF. Asbestosis results from the cumulative scarring of alveoli by the inhaled microscopic asbestos fibers, inhibiting oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange. It leads to stiff lungs, diminished lung capacity, and increased shortness of breath. While there is no cure for asbestosis, patients whose condition is diagnosed in the early stages have better outcomes.

Besides asbestosis, exposure to airborne asbestos particles increases the risk of pericardial mesothelioma - an aggressive and rare cancer that develops in the pericardium, the lining of the heart. Some inhaled fibers can reach and injure the thin membrane surrounding and protecting the heart. This type of mesothelioma may also be misdiagnosed as CHF due to the symptoms it manifests:

  • chest pain
  • heart murmurs
  • irregular heart rhythm
  • anemia
  • weight loss
  • fatigue
  • circulatory problems

A correct diagnosis of an asbestos-related disease can be difficult for physicians unless they understand that the veteran has been exposed to elevated levels of asbestos for a long time. That is why veterans need to be open about their military service and possible asbestos exposure when attending a health check-up. When correctly informed, doctors may issue differential diagnoses based on the following:

  • occupational history to determine the job and potential exposures
  • physical examination
  • imaging tests

Generally, misdiagnosis leads to incorrect or delayed treatment, inculding when there's no prescribed treatment. Therefore, Navy veterans should get a second, even third opinion outside the VA from a specialist experienced with asbestos-related illnesses to correctly identify and treat their condition. Receiving a correct diagnosis is crucial when it comes to applying for compensation, as the monetary reward asbestos victims are eligible for depends primarily on their diagnosis.

Offering Assistance for Veterans in Filing Claims for Compensation

Navy veterans harmed by asbestos fibers while carrying out duty between World War II and the mid-1980s have the right to seek compensation from asbestos trust funds and the VA to cover the overwhelming expenses of medical treatment and hospitalization if they have proof of asbestos exposure and were diagnosed with the following asbestos cancers:

If your medical files show any of the malignant illnesses listed above and you choose to seek legal remedy, an asbestos attorney can help you gather the necessary papers and then represent you through the process, warranting the success of your case. We can assist you by connecting you with expert lawyers who are ready to take on your case.

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