Pulmonary hypertension (PH) is high blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries, which carry blood from the heart to the lungs to pick up oxygen. It affects the arteries in the lungs and the right side of your heart.
What causes pulmonary hypertension?
Pulmonary hypertension is usually caused by changes in the cells that line the pulmonary arteries or capillaries which causes them to become narrowed, blocked or damaged. There are five kinds of pulmonary hypertension categorized by cause.
Inflammation, tightening, stiffening, and blood clots in the arteries are common causes. When this happens, your heart’s lower right chamber (right ventricle) must work harder to move blood through the lungs. As a result, the pressure in your pulmonary arteries increases also causing right heart muscle to weaken and fail.
Sometimes pulmonary hypertension can be caused by another medical problem (secondary pulmonary hypertension) i.e. Heart or lung disease or by blood clots. In other cases, the cause of pulmonary hypertension is unknown (idiopathic pulmonary hypertension).
What are the symptoms of pulmonary hypertension?
There are few early signs of pulmonary hypertension. As it progresses, common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- A fast heartbeat
- Pain on the upper right side of the abdomen
- Decreased appetite
When pulmonary hypertension is severe, you may notice other symptoms:
- Swelling in the legs or ankles
- A bluish tint in the skin and lips
How is pulmonary hypertension diagnosed?
Your doctor can diagnose pulmonary hypertension using a physical exam and by running several tests, including:
- Chest X-ray
- Electrocardiogram (EKG)
- Right heart catheterization
Your doctor will look for the underlying cause of pulmonary hypertension using several tests, including:
- Blood tests
- Chest computed tomography (CT) scan
- Chest magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Lung function tests
- Lung ventilation/perfusion (VQ) scan
- Polysomnogram (PSG)
How is pulmonary hypertension treated?
While there’s no cure for pulmonary hypertension, it can be managed through medication, medical procedures and surgery. Some treatments depend on the type of pulmonary hypertension you have; others are effective for any type.
Treatments that are used for all five kinds of pulmonary hypertension include:
- Diuretics (water pills) to reduce fluid buildup in your body
- Blood thinners to prevent blood clots
- Medicines that dilate the arteries
- Oxygen therapy
- Physical activity
Treatments used for specific kinds of pulmonary hypertension include:
- Atrial septostomy
- Lung transplant surgery
- Heart-lung transplant surgery