Pulmonary hypertension is a type of high blood pressure. Known colloquially as PH, it occurs when the blood vessels leading to the lungs from the heart are highly pressurized. It affects the arteries in the lungs and the right side of the heart. Left untreated, the affected blood vessels can become narrowed and hardened. This puts additional strain on the heart, as it must work harder to pump the blood into the lungs. In time, this can lead to heart failure and other cardiovascular complications.
Pulmonary hypertension is a serious condition that worsens over time. If you think you may have pulmonary hypertension, schedule an appointment with your physician or cardiologist. There are certain treatments and therapies that can help improve heart function. Similarly, if you have any of the risk factors associated with pulmonary hypertension, work with your doctor to decrease your chance of developing this form of high blood pressure.
Pulmonary hypertension causes can vary by person. There are five types of pulmonary hypertension, each defined by its primary cause. In all cases, the condition is caused by changes in the cells that line the affected arteries. The five types, or “groups” of PH are included below, alongside their causes.
In all cases, a separate condition leads to the development of pulmonary hypertension. If you have any of the diseases listed above, talk to your doctor about how you can mitigate your risk for developing PH.
The symptoms of pulmonary hypertension are similar to most cardiovascular conditions. Common signs include:
Remember that symptoms of PI typically develop slowly, so it may be difficult to notice them. Symptoms get worse as the disease progresses, so speak with your doctor if you’re experiencing anything out of the ordinary.
As with most cardiovascular conditions, there are several risk factors that will increase a person’s chance of developing pulmonary hypertension. Importantly, growing older will increase a person’s likelihood for PH. Most people diagnosed are between the ages of 30 and 60. The notable exception is that Group 1, or pulmonary arterial hypertension, is most common in younger adults.
In addition to age, there are several additional factors that can increase a person’s risk for developing PI.
Only a doctor can diagnose pulmonary hypertension. The diagnosis process typically begins with a physical exam and medical history review, followed by a discussion of symptoms you may be experiencing. Then, the doctor will select a range of tests and diagnostic procedures to confirm the condition.
There is no known treatment for pulmonary hypertension. As a result, most treatment strategies focus on mitigating symptoms and improving quality of life. This can help slow the condition’s progression. In most cases, the doctor will begin by treating the underlying condition, which will vary between people.
Some doctors will recommend pulmonary hypertension medications. This can include blood vessel dilators, which improve blood flow, and guanylate cyclase (GSC) stimulators, which relax the pulmonary arteries and lower pressure. Other medications include:
Your physician may also suggest oxygen therapy, especially if your PH is caused by sleep apnea or living at a high altitude.
In all cases, your doctor will recommend healthy lifestyle changes as part of your pulmonary hypertension treatment. This can improve heart function, increase a person’s ability to exercise, and help a patient work toward a healthier future.
In some severe cases, medication may not be enough to control PH. When this happens, your doctor may suggest a surgical treatment. The most common is a atrial septostomy. During this procedure, the surgeon will create a small hole between the left and right atria. This helps reduce the pressure on the right side of the heart, improving blood flow and allowing the heart to pump more efficiently.
Some doctors may suggest a balloon pulmonary angioplasty instead. In this procedure, the surgeon will use balloons to open blood vessels that have been narrowed or blocked, restoring blood flow to the lungs and reducing shortness of breath. Others will also suggest a pulmonary endarterectomy, which can remove blood clots from inside blood vessels of the lungs.
If your PH medication and lifestyle changes don’t improve your condition, talk to your doctor about surgical options. These procedures are not recommended for everybody, but only your doctor can make that determination.
Patients who follow their treatment plans and avoid complications can expect to live relatively normal lives. You should receive routine follow-up care and monitor the condition using diagnostic and imaging tests. Importantly, make heart-healthy lifestyle changes, like diet, to help improve heart function, and engage in physical activity at your comfort level and with your doctor’s permission. Avoid high altitudes whenever possible and remember to follow treatments for underlying medical conditions.
Importantly, do not consume tobacco or nicotine, and get plenty of rest, review and get recommended vaccines, and remain as active as possible. If left untreated, pulmonary hypertension can cause major health complications, including arrhythmia, blood clots, hemoptysis (coughing up blood), heart enlargement, and heart failure. However, with routine check-ups, a strict treatment regimen, and positive lifestyle changes, people with pulmonary hypertension can lead long, fulfilling lives.