Chronic Beryllium Disease

Chronic beryllium disease, or CBD, causes scarring of the lung tissue. It occurs when a person inhales dust or fumes of beryllium — a naturally occuring lightweight material — and has become sensitized to this material. Beryllium is used in various industries, such as electronics, aerospace, dental, atomic energy and defense.

In the early stages, CBD may not cause any noticeable symptoms. However, over time, the following symptoms may develop:

  • Shortness of breath with physical activity
  • Dry cough that will not go away
  • Fatigue
  • Night sweats
  • Chest and joint pain
  • Loss of appetite

In making a diagnosis of chronic beryllium disease, your doctor will start by taking a detailed medical and occupational history and conducting a thorough medical examination. This will help determine if you have been exposed to any toxic substances that may have caused CBD or other occupational lung diseases. CBD, without a specific occupational history and specialized testing, is identical to the disease sarcoidosis and therefore is often misdiagnosed as that condition.

Another important step in making a diagnosis of CBD is a simple blood test called beryllium lymphocyte proliferation test (BeLPT). This test determines if your immune system is reacting to berylium, which may indicate CBD. If you test positive for this test, additional tests may be conducted to make a definitive diagnosis:

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At this time, there is no cure for chronic beryllium disease. However, treatment is available that can help slow the progression of the disease, prevent further lung damage caused by scarring, improve oxygen levels in the bloodstream and manage symptoms.

Treatment depends on the severity of your disease and symptoms and may include the following:

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Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.