People of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds can be diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension. If you’ve recently been diagnosed, it’s important to get a firm grasp on what the chronic disease is in order to make the most of your new condition. Read on to discover what pulmonary hypertension is, what causes the chronic lung disease and what treatment options are available to those who have been diagnosed.
What is Pulmonary Hypertension?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, pulmonary hypertension (PH) is a lung disorder in which the arteries that carry blood from the heart to the lungs become narrowed, making it difficult for blood to flow through the vessels. As a result, the blood pressure in these arteries rises above normal levels, straining the right ventricle of the heart and causing it to expand in size. Overworked and enlarged, the right ventricle gradually becomes weaker and loses its ability to pump enough blood to the lungs.
“Just like you have a blood pressure in your arms, you have a blood pressure in your lungs,” Valerie McLaughlin, M.D., explains in a video on the Pulmonary Hypertension Association website. “In patients with pulmonary hypertension, the pressure in the lungs goes up, blood vessels constrict down and narrow and it makes it harder for the right side of the heart to get the blood flow through the lungs to the left side of the heart and the rest of the body.”
Causes of Pulmonary Hypertension
A few known causes of pulmonary hypertension, as outlined by the Cleveland Clinic, include:
- Liver diseases, rheumatic disorders and lung conditions. Pulmonary hypertension can also occur as a result of other medical conditions such as chronic liver disease and liver cirrhosis; rheumatic disorders such as scleroderma or systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus); and lung conditions including tumors, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pulmonary fibrosis.
- Certain heart diseases. Heart diseases including aortic valve disease, left heart failure, mitral valve disease and congenital heart disease can cause pulmonary hypertension.
- Thromboembolic disease. A blood clot in a large pulmonary artery can result in the development of pulmonary hypertension.
- Low-oxygen conditions. High altitude living, obesity and sleep apnea can also lead to the development of pulmonary hypertension.
- Genetic predisposition. Pulmonary hypertension is inherited in a small number of cases.
These are not the only causes of pulmonary hypertension, and in some cases, the cause is unknown.
Symptoms of Pulmonary Hypertension
According to the Pulmonary Hypertension Association, the symptoms of pulmonary hypertension may include:
- Chest pain
- Loss of energy
- Swelling of the arms, legs, ankles or abdomen
- Dry cough
- Chalky white or dusty blue fingers that may be painful and can sometimes be provoked by the cold (called Raynaud’s phenomenon)
Treating Pulmonary Hypertension
Treatment for pulmonary hypertension varies from person to person based on different underlying causes, but it generally includes taking oral, inhaled, intravenous (into the vein) and/or subcutaneous (into the skin) medications; making lifestyle and dietary change; and visiting your doctor regularly. In some cases, treating pulmonary hypertension may require lung transplantation or other surgery.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, medications available to treat pulmonary hypertension include:
- Oxygen to replace low oxygen levels in the blood
- Anticoagulants or “blood thinners” to decrease blood clot formation
- Diuretics or “water pills” to remove excess fluid from tissues and bloodstream, which reduces swelling and makes breathing easier
- Inotropic agents to improve the heart’s pumping ability
Has your doctor prescribed supplemental oxygen to treat your pulmonary hypertension? Find out if there is an option for oxygen that better fits your active lifestyle by watching this video.