Pulmonary Hypertension

What is Pulmonary Hypertension?

Pulmonary Hypertension occurs when the arteries that move blood from the heart to the lungs narrow and build up pressure. That pressure, in turn, puts a strain on the heart’s ability to pump sufficient blood to the lungs. The right ventricle of the heart that pumps directly to the lungs may become enlarged because it is working so much harder, and then it loses the ability to pump properly. Partial or complete heart failure can result.

Anyone can develop pulmonary hypertension, but it is twice as common in women as in men and tends to affect younger adults.

People who are overweight, use recreational drugs like cocaine or have a family member with pulmonary hypertension are more likely to develop the disease.

What are the Symptoms of Pulmonary Hypertension?

The symptoms of pulmonary hypertension generally come on slowly and increase in severity over time. If you have shortness of breath, tire easily, get dizzy or faint or feel pain in your chest, you should see a doctor to be evaluated for pulmonary hypertension.

Other signs of the disease include getting edema, or swelling, in your legs and arms. You may experience heart palpitations or inconsistent heart beat. In some cases, the lack of oxygen to your body can turn your skin a slightly bluish color.

Pulmonary Hypertension Causes

There are five different types of pulmonary hypertension, each with a different range of potential causes. Group 1 of the disease is called pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), and it often has no known cause. In some cases it seems to occur because something in our genetic markup predisposes us to it. It can be inherited, and people with a first-degree relative with the condition are at an increased risk of the disease themselves.

PAH can also be caused by the use certain street drugs, like methamphetamine, and diet pills, as well as a range of other health conditions, such as:

  • HIV infection
  • Connective tissue disease
  • Liver disease
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Schiostosomiasis

Group 2 pulmonary hypertension (PH) is caused by high blood pressure, mitral valve disease and other conditions which affect the left side of the heart. Group 3 PH is associated with lung diseases which lead to scarring in the lungs. Sleep-related breathing disorders, like sleep apnea, can also cause group 3 PH.

Group 4 PH is caused by blood clots, either those which occur in the lungs or as a result of blood clotting disorders. Finally, group 5 PH is caused by other underlying diseases or health conditions, such as:

  • Polycythemia vera
  • Thrombocythemia
  • Sarcoidos
  • Vasculitis
  • Thyroid disease
  • Gylcogen storage disease
  • Tumors on the pulmonary arteries

How is Pulmonary Hypertension Treated?

There is no cure for pulmonary hypertension, but smart management of the symptoms can keep the disease from getting worse. Sometimes it can be challenging to find the right treatment for your individual needs, and it may take some time and experimentation with your doctor’s input to find the right medications to treat the disease.

An inhaler with a vasodilator can help in instances where you feel shortness of breath. Other drugs can help open the narrow arteries and increase blood flow. Your doctor is likely to give you a blood thinner to prevent clots from forming and blocking the already narrow arteries.

Surgery may be necessary for some patients with pulmonary hypertension. Open heart surgery can relieve some of the pressure on your heart.

Pulmonary Hypertension Prevention

It isn’t possible to prevent pulmonary hypertension in most cases. Parents with group 1 PAH may want to consider genetic testing for their children. Genetic testing could identify whether children have the gene which causes PAH, which might help to reduce uncertainty about their health. If they do have the gene, they can then be sure to undergo regular medical screenings for PAH in order that treatment can be administered early and the condition more successfully managed.

Since pulmonary hypertension can occur as a result of use of street drugs and diet pills, it’s vital to avoid the use of these substances. People with health conditions which are known to cause pulmonary hypertension should carefully follow the advice and treatment plans given to them by their doctor. Successful management of their condition may help to prevent pulmonary hypertension.

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Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
January 17, 2018