Diagnosed With Pulmonary Hypertension, Now What?

Pulmonary Hypertension

Pulmonary hypertension is a condition where blood pressure is high and affects not only the arteries in the lungs but also the heart, precisely the right side of the heart. High blood pressure causes an increase in the force of the blood going through arteries and veins, as well as capillary veins. This increased force causes damage or breaking of said veins and arteries. The result of this is decreased blood flow into the lungs, which in turns makes the lungs work harder. This eventually leads to the muscles and arteries in the heart becoming weaker.

What are the symptoms of pulmonary hypertension?

Symptoms vary with each individual; some may have all or only some of the following. The symptoms of pulmonary hypertension are as follows:

  • Shortness of breath (SOB) with any physical exertion and after progression, SOB can occur at rest also
  • Lethargy, or fatigue
  • Vertigo (dizziness), syncope (fainting)
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Swelling in the lower extremities (edema) or abdomen (ascites)
  • Blue tint color to lips and skin (cyanosis)
  • Fast or increased heart rate (tachycardia)

What causes pulmonary hypertension?

The heart consists of four chambers, two upper and two lower. The right side is responsible for pumping blood into the lungs; the left is responsible for pumping blood to the rest of the body. The lower right chamber is responsible for injecting blood into the pulmonary artery.

Typically the blood flows smoothly and effectively, keeping your blood pressure at baseline, or healthy. With pulmonary hypertension, the artery walls become thick with extra tissue and stiffen, making the blood flow restricted and difficult to pump through the artery thereby raising blood pressure. The heart has to work harder to get the blood flow through which causes damage and weakening of the heart muscles over time.

There are five known correlating factors for causing pulmonary hypertension:

1.Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension – typically known as idiopathic (unknown origin) pulmonary arterial hypertension (IPAH). Theorized causes are specific gene mutations, certain drugs or toxins, congenital heart disease (heart defect at present at birth), connective tissue disorders, HIV infection, liver disease.

2.Pulmonary Hypertension caused by diseases affecting the Left Side of the Heart– Caused by mitral or aortic valve diseases, left lower chamber failure of the heart.

3.Pulmonary Hypertension caused by Lung Disease – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, pulmonary fibrosis, sleep apnea, chronic high altitude exposure.

4.Pulmonary Hypertension caused by Chronic Blood Clots – repeated pulmonary emboli (blood clot) episodes in the lungs.

5.Pulmonary Hypertension caused by Other Conditions – blood conditions, conditions affecting other organs in the body, metabolic disorders, tumors.

What are the common risk factors for developing pulmonary hypertension?

The following risk factors are based on correlations, studies, and observations:

  • IPAH in young adults
  • Obesity
  • Family history
  • Currently diagnosed with any of the above conditions listed
  • Use of recreational or illicit drugs
  • Appetite-suppressant medications
  • Combination of any of these factors combined with chronic high altitude exposure