Caplan syndrome is swelling (inflammation) and scarring of the lungs. It occurs in people with rheumatoid arthritis who have breathed in mining dust that contains coal. This lung disease is also called coal worker's pneumoconiosis.
Caplan syndrome is caused by breathing in coal mining dust. This causes inflammation and can lead to the formation of many small lumps in the lungs and an airway disease similar to mild asthma.
Some people who have been exposed to coal dust have severe lung scarring that makes it difficult for their lungs to carry oxygen to their bloodstream (called progressive massive fibrosis). People with rheumatoid arthritis do not seem more likely to have this complication.
Caplan syndrome is very rare in the United States.
Symptoms of Caplan syndrome are:
- Joint swelling and pain
- Lumps under the skin (rheumatoid nodules)
- Shortness of breath
Exams and Tests
Your health care provider will take a detailed medical history. It will include questions about your jobs (past and present) and other possible sources of exposure to mining dust. Your provider will also do a physical exam, paying special attention to any joint and skin disease.
Other tests can include:
- Chest x-ray
- CT scan of the chest
- Joint x-rays
- Pulmonary function tests
- Rheumatoid factor test and other blood tests
There is no specific treatment for Caplan syndrome, other than treating any lung and joint disease.
Attending a support group with people who have the same disease or a similar disease can help you understand your condition better. It can also help you adjust to your treatment and lifestyle changes. Support groups take place online and in person. Ask your provider about a support group that might help you.
Caplan syndrome rarely causes serious breathing trouble or disability due to lung problems.
These complications can occur from Caplan syndrome:
- Increased risk for tuberculosis
- Scarring in the lungs (progressive massive fibrosis)
- Side effects from medicines you take
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call for an appointment with your provider if you have symptoms of Caplan syndrome.
People with rheumatoid arthritis should avoid exposure to coal dust.
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Reviewed By: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.