Pulmonary hypertension is a condition that causes high blood pressure in the blood vessels that carry blood to the lungs. When this happens, your heart's lower right chamber (right ventricle) must work harder to pump blood through your lungs, eventually causing your heart muscle to weaken and eventually fail. This is a progressive disease that gets worse over time if left untreated. When treatment is not received early, the consequences can be devastating, resulting in right-sided heart failure and, eventually, leading to death.
There are a number of risk factors for pulmonary hypertension including family history, left-sided heart failure, obstructive sleep apnea, connective tissue disorders like Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis, living at a high altitude or the use of certain drugs.
Pulmonary hypertension is not curable, but it is treatable. But first, your physician must find the cause. There are a number of concurrent conditions that can lead to pulmonary hypertension. If none of these are present, the pressure in the pulmonary arteries can be lowered by medications either oral, IV or subcutaneous. This treatment will improve a patient's quality of life and lessen symptoms like tiredness and weakness.
Early symptoms include trouble breathing when moving or feeling tired. Over time, pulmonary hypertension can cause other symptoms like swelling of legs and feet, chest pains, fainting, pain in the stomach or not feeling hungry. Sometimes patients experience a chronic cough that may result in spitting up blood or hoarseness.
While pulmonary arterial hypertension is somewhat rare, it is often under-diagnosed. Many of the most common symptoms of pulmonary hypertension are the same in other more common disorders. Many patients will experience symptoms that result in repeated admissions to the hospital before it is diagnosed.
A number of tests can help identify pulmonary hypertension. A doctor will often begin with an echocardiogram, followed by pulmonary function tests, right-sided heart catheterization, 6-minute walking and blood tests. Additionally, a physician may order a sleep study. A series of tests can help your physician identify the cause of your pulmonary hypertension.
The medicines that treat pulmonary hypertension are very high profile. They must be monitored closely by your physician and require a special clinic to order and fill the prescriptions.
While it is sometimes difficult to diagnose, life after a pulmonary hypertension diagnosis can improve vastly. The disease can be effectively managed. With proper treatment, many patients resume a relatively normal life and participate in enjoyable activities.
Mahmoud Moammar, M.D., KentuckyOne Health Pulmonology Associates.