Pulmonary hypertension is a lung disorder in which the blood pressure in the pulmonary artery rises far above normal levels.
It’s almost twice as common in women as in men and, in African Americans, four times as common in women. It’s often an effect of another medical condition, although it may be genetic.
Causes of Pulmonary Hypertension
The increase in blood pressure results from stiffening or blockages in lung arteries, which make it harder for blood to flow. When pulmonary hypertension is due to genetic or unknown factors, it is called primary pulmonary hypertension. Secondary pulmonary hypertension occurs as a result of the effects of other health conditions, such as a blood clot in the lungs, connective-tissue disorders or other heart or lung diseases.
Symptoms of Pulmonary Hypertension
Symptoms may include fatigue, difficulty breathing, dizziness, fainting spells, swelling in the ankles or legs, bluish lips and skin, chest pain, racing pulse and palpitations—all of which indicate too little oxygen in the blood. In advanced stages, the patient may become bedridden and will have symptoms even when resting.
Diagnosing Pulmonary Hypertension
Pulmonary hypertension is rarely discovered in a routine medical examination, and in its later stages, the signs of the disease can be confused with other conditions affecting the heart and lungs. The diagnosis is usually made by ruling out other conditions, using:
- Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG)—A test that records the electrical activity of the heart, shows abnormal rhythms (arrhythmias or dysrhythmias) and detects heart muscle damage.
- Echocardiogram (echo)—A procedure that evaluates the structure and function of the heart by using sound waves recorded on an electronic sensor that produce a moving picture of the heart and heart valves.
- Pulmonary function tests—Diagnostic tests that help to measure the lungs’ ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide appropriately. The tests are usually performed with devices into which the person must breathe.
- Perfusion lung scan—A nuclear medicine procedure that can detect a blood clot in the artery leading to the lung. This procedure can also assess the function of the lungs.
- Cardiac catheterization—A procedure that evaluates blood flow to the heart muscle, blockage of coronary arteries, congenital heart defects, functioning of the heart valves, and other heart structures. A small catheter is advanced from a blood vessel in the groin or arm through the aorta to the heart.
Treating Pulmonary Hypertension
Pulmonary hypertension is a chronic condition that may be managed with lifestyle changes and medication. In the early stages, measures like avoiding cigarette smoke, dietary salt, high altitudes and stress, as well as getting adequate rest, moderate exercise and a healthy diet, may be helpful. Unfortunately, research has indicated that primary pulmonary hypertension may not be detected until it is advanced, so it is important to bring symptoms like fatigue and breathlessness to your doctor’s attention.
Because the disease varies with each individual, finding the most effective treatment for advanced pulmonary hypertension often requires trying several of the following:
- Anticoagulant medications to decrease the tendency of the blood to clot and permit blood to flow more freely.
- Diuretics to decrease the amount of fluid in the body and reduce the amount of work the heart has to do.
- Vasodilators to help lower blood pressure in the lungs and improve the performance of the heart in many patients.
- Calcium channel blocking drugs to improve the heart’s ability to pump blood.
- Supplemental oxygen delivered through nasal prongs or a mask, if breathing becomes difficult.
- Lung or heart/lung transplantation are reserved for patients whose disease is life-threatening.
Nutrition and Prevention
Reference these links for information on how to prevent heart disease and how to live a healthy lifestyle.
- Lifestyle Changes
- Healthy Diet
- Reduce Stress
- Stop Smoking
- Healthy Cholesterol Levels
- Reduce Sodium
Date Last Modified: January 21, 2011
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