What is Pulmonary Hypertension?

Pulmonary hypertension is a serious condition that’s marked by dangerously high blood pressure in the right chambers of the heart and the blood vessels leading to the lungs. In some cases, these vessels are simply too narrow or blocked, but in severe instances, some may even be completely destroyed. While this is a life-threatening condition with no cure, with the correct treatment, patients can go on to lead healthy and normal lives.

Pulmonary Hypertension Symptoms

Many patients with pulmonary hypertension do not even realize they have the condition in the early stages, since symptoms are so mild or attributable to other things. For example, shortness of breath during physical activity is one of the first symptoms to manifest—which, depending on the level of physical activity, may not be seen as abnormal.

However, as the disease progresses, patients will begin to experience more noticeable symptoms. These include periods of dizziness, fainting, shortness of breath while at rest, chest pain, swelling in the ankles and abdomen, and blue lips.

Pulmonary Hypertension Causes

Most cases of pulmonary hypertension are caused by an underlying health condition, many of which are related to other heart or lung problems. Issues such as blood clots, emphysema, bronchitis, sleep apnea, and heart failure can all contribute to the development of this condition. However, seemingly unrelated conditions may also play a role—such as cirrhosis of the liver, HIV, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.

In rare instances, doctors may not be able to locate a definitive cause for the condition. These cases are known as idiopathic pulmonary hypertension, and it’s believed that genetics may play a role in its development.

Finally, pulmonary hypertension can be caused by Eisenmenger syndrome, which is a condition marked by congenital heart defects. The congenital heart defect associated with pulmonary hypertension is most commonly a large hole between the two ventricles of the heart.

Pulmonary Hypertension Risk Factors

Anyone is at risk for this disease, but it appears more commonly in older adults than young people. Since there is a potential genetic basis for this condition, a family history of the disease is another important risk factor. Finally, men have a higher risk of developing pulmonary hypertension than women.

Pulmonary Hypertension Treatments

The best way to treat pulmonary hypertension is by dealing with the underlying condition that’s causing it. However, during this period, doctors may recommend other treatments that can help alleviate symptoms.

In terms of medication, blood vessel dilators are an effective way to help open up the narrow blood vessels that link the heart to the lungs. However, the effects of these types of medication typically only last a few minutes, which means that patients much receive a continuous stream in order to see improvement. This often requires wearing a portable IV device that can pump medicine on a regular basis.

Anticoagulants, which help stop blood clotting, are another common treatment choice. These medications help prevent blood clots from obstructing already-narrow blood vessels, but they’re not a good choice for everyone. Patients with underlying blood disorders such as hemophilia may be at risk for uncontrolled bleeding if they use anticoagulants.

Strangely enough, erectile dysfunction medications, such as Viagra and Cialis can actually help with pulmonary hypertension, since they are designed to help expand narrow blood vessels as well.

If medications are not effective at reducing symptoms, surgery may be necessary. Most commonly, this will involve a procedure known as atrial septostomy, which involves creating a space between the chambers of the heart to help relieve pressure. In particularly severe cases, a complete lung or heart transplant may be necessary.