Pulmonary Hypertension: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments
What is Pulmonary Hypertension?
Pulmonary hypertension is a rare condition in which the blood pressure within the arteries of the lungs becomes abnormally high. It is a serious condition that can cause right-sided heart failure and death if left untreated. The increased pressure in the pulmonary arteries can cause shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, and dizziness, even during mild exertion.
The pulmonary vasculature is a network of arteries in the lungs that carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the lung air sacs (alveoli). The pressure within these arteries is normally much lower than in systemic circulation. In cases of pulmonary hypertension, the pressure within the pulmonary arteries increases, leading to impaired oxygen transfer across the alveoli for gas exchange.
The exact cause of pulmonary hypertension is often unknown. It can be associated with other diseases, such as scleroderma, connective tissue diseases, heart valve problems, sleep apnea, and chronic lung diseases such as COPD. Other possible causes of pulmonary hypertension include blood clots in the lungs, anemia, and some medications, such as diet pills and anabolic steroids.
The early symptoms of pulmonary hypertension are often nonspecific and can include fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, and dizziness. More severe symptoms can include fatigue, swelling of the ankles and legs, bluish discoloration of the lips and skin (cyanosis), and fainting with exertion.
The diagnosis of pulmonary hypertension is usually made through a combination of tests, such as a chest x-ray, pulmonary function tests, electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, right heart catheterization, and CT scan.
The goal of treatment for pulmonary hypertension is to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life. Treatment options include medications, oxygen therapy, lifestyle adjustments, and in some cases, surgery. Medications used to treat pulmonary hypertension include diuretics to help reduce fluid buildup in the body, drugs to lower lung pressure, and drugs to improve oxygen levels in the body. In more severe cases, surgical procedures may be required to improve blood flow in the lungs and reduce pulmonary pressures.
The prognosis for pulmonary hypertension varies, depending on the individual’s underlying cause and the severity of the condition. With proper treatment and lifestyle changes, many people with pulmonary hypertension can lead normal and productive lives.