Pulmonary hypertension (PH) is high blood pressure that affects the lungs and the right side of your heart.
High Blood Pressure
Pulmonary is another word for lungs, and hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. Pulmonary arteries and tiny capillary blood vessels carry blood from your heart to your lungs. PH begins when something damages, blocks or destroys the pulmonary arteries or capillaries. The pulmonary arteries and capillaries become hard and narrow. This damage makes it harder for blood to flow to your lungs, and raises pressure inside the lungs’ arteries.
The hypertension inside the pulmonary arteries makes your heart work harder to push blood through the blood vessels. Specifically, your heart’s lower right chamber, known as the right ventricle, must work overtime to move blood through the hard, narrow arteries to your lungs. In time, this excess workload causes your heart muscles to weaken and eventually fail.
Thick, narrow and damaged blood vessels cannot carry as much blood. This means there is less blood to circulate through the lungs to pick up oxygen. Oxygen-poor blood leaves you feeling tired, dizzy and short of breath.
PH is a serious and progressive illness, which means it grows worse over time. It is sometimes fatal. While PH is not curable, treatment can reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Pulmonary Hypertension Symptoms
Symptoms of PH may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness, fainting
- Chest pressure, pain
- Bluish lips and skin
- Racing pulse, heart palpitations
- Swelling in your ankles, legs and eventually in your abdomen
In its earliest stages, you may not notice symptoms of pulmonary hypertension. Symptoms develop as damage to the pulmonary arteries continues. Shortness of breath may only occur when you exercise, for example, and then eventually occur while you are at rest. Swelling may start in the ankles and legs in early stages of the condition, but move into your abdomen later.
Pulmonary Hypertension Diagnosis and Treatment
Because many medical conditions can cause PH, your doctor will need to take a complete medical history, perform a comprehensive physical exam and ask you about your symptoms to diagnose and treat pulmonary hypertension. Your doctor will listen to your heart, for example, and examine the jugular vein in your neck for enlargement. Tests may include blood tests, chest x-rays, echocardiogram to show function of your right ventricle and an angiogram to look for blood clots.
Pulmonary Function Tests
Pulmonary function tests (PFTs) determine how well your lungs work. This test helps rule out other medical conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pulmonary fibrosis, a condition characterized by scarring of the lungs.
Treatment varies, based on the underlying cause and the particular needs of the patient, but often includes medications and lifestyle changes. Oxygen can help replace low oxygen in your blood. Surgery is sometimes necessary. Regular trips to your doctor can help you keep your pulmonary hypertension in check.