Can Asbestos Exposure Cause Heart Problems and Heart Failure?

It is very likely that asbestos exposure can cause heart problems, and may contribute to heart failure.  The specific asbestos related cancer to consider is called Primary malignant pericardial mesothelioma (PMPM) which accounts for 2-3% of all cardiac and primary pericardial tumors as this study shows.  This is a rare form of asbestos-caused cancer where tumors first form in the pericardium (the double-layered membrane surrounding the heart) and is not often diagnosed until an autopsy is preformed.

A recent systematic review of all available research on the PubMed database definitively concluded that asbestos exposure “significantly increased” the risk of heart disease in affected workers.  The specific mechanisms that contribute to this increased risk, however, are to date understudied.  The review authors suggest that perhaps asbestos fibers cause chronic inflammation, which has been shown in other cases to play an important role in the development of heart disease.  Although no existing study on humans demonstrates that asbestos specifically causes the kind of inflammation that has been linked with heart disease, asbestos exposure has been shown to induce similar inflammatory responses in animal studies.  In addition medical examiners have found asbestos fibers in the heart lining, but have no definitive answers to how they got there. They also suggest that impaired lung function (a condition that has been definitively tied to asbestos exposure) could lead to episodes of hypoxemia (an abnormally low concentration of oxygen in the blood), which could increase the risk of mortality from heart disease.

Other cohort studies have shown an increased risk for mortality from ischemic heart disease (diseases resulting from reduced blood supply to the heart).  The research community is more or less in agreement that asbestos exposure can cause impaired lung function, so it stands to reason that ischemic heart disease may be a secondary effect of primary lung function impairment due to asbestos exposure.  In other words, there may be an indirect relationship between asbestos exposure and ischemic heart disease.