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Pulmonary Hypertension - General Information

Understanding Pulmonary Hypertension (PH)

What is Pulmonary Hypertension?

Pulmonary Hypertension (PH) is a serious condition where the blood pressure in the arteries of your lungs becomes very high. This pressure can strain your heart, making it hard for it to pump blood through the lungs. This disease can make you feel very tired and short of breath, and it needs careful management. Symptoms of PH often resemble those of other heart and lung diseases, which can make it more difficult to diagnose.

Pulmonary hypertension is classified into 5 different groups based on the underlying cause:

  • Group 1: Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension (PAH) is when the elevated blood pressure is specifically in the smallest arteries of the lungs.
  • Group 2: PH due to left heart disease is due to left-sided heart conditions, such as heart failure.
  • Group 3: PH due to lung disease and/or hypoxia is associated with chronic lung conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and interstitial lung disease.
  • Group 4: Chronic Thromboembolic Pulmonary Hypertension (CTEPH) is caused by blood clots in the arteries of the lungs.
  • Group 5: PH with unclear or multifactorial mechanisms is where the exact cause of the PH is uncertain or there are multiple factors potentially causing the PH.
Understanding Pulmonary hypertension

What Causes Pulmonary Hypertension?

Pulmonary Hypertension can happen for different reasons, and sometimes the cause is not clear. Here are some of the common causes and risk factors that might make someone more likely to develop Pulmonary Hypertension:

  • Heart Diseases: Issues with how your heart works can lead to Pulmonary Hypertension.
  • Lung Diseases: Diseases that affect your lungs, like COPD, can also cause Pulmonary Hypertension.
  • Autoimmune Diseases: These are diseases where your immune system attacks parts of your own body by mistake. Examples include scleroderma or lupus.
  • Genetic Factors: Sometimes Pulmonary Hypertension runs in families, so genetics can play a role.
  • Infections and Drugs: Some infections or certain drugs can increase the risk of developing Pulmonary Hypertension.

What are the Symptoms of Pulmonary Hypertension?

Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension symptoms often start slowly and get worse over time. Common symptoms include:

  • Feeling short of breath, especially when you’re active.
  • Feeling tired all the time.
  • Chest pain or a feeling of pressure in your chest.
  • Swollen ankles or legs.
  • Dizziness or fainting spells, especially during activity.

Because PH has nonspecific symptoms particularly in early disease, it is frequently attributed to other more common cardiac and pulmonary diseases. It is often not recognized until patients develop symptoms of right heart failure and therefore the diagnosis can take years.

pulmonary arterial hypertension - source myphteam.com
PAH vs Normal heart - Source: myphteam.com

Diagnosing Pulmonary Hypertension

Diagnosing Pulmonary Hypertension can be challenging because its symptoms are similar to those of other diseases. Doctors use several tests to diagnose PAH, including:

  • Echocardiogram: This test uses sound waves to create pictures of your heart and checks how well it’s working.
  • Electrocardiogram: This test records the heart’s electrical activity.
  • Right Heart Catheterization: This is a special test where a thin tube is inserted into a vein to measure the pressure in your lungs and heart.
  • Other Tests: These might include blood tests, chest X-rays, CT scans, breathing tests, and exercise tests to see how your body responds to physical activity.

Treatment for Pulmonary Hypertension

While there is no cure for Pulmonary Hypertension, there are certain treatments and therapies that can help manage the symptoms and improve your quality of life:

  • Medications: Medications are often prescribed to manage symptoms and slow the progression of certain types of PH. Optimizing treatment for underlying heart and lung diseases that is contributing to PH is very important.
  • Oxygen Therapy: Some people might need extra oxygen, especially when they sleep or exercise.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Eating healthy, staying active within your limits (exercising should be approached cautiously and should be supervised), reducing alcohol consumption and not smoking, being up to date with vaccinations, and avoiding high altitudes can also help manage PH.

PH specialized treatment centers across Canada

specialized treatment centers across Canada

Living with Pulmonary Hypertension

Living with Pulmonary Hypertension can be challenging, but with the right care and support, many people manage well:

  • Regular Check-ups: Regular visits with your healthcare team are important to keep track of your health and adjust treatments as needed.
  • Support and Education: Joining a support group can help you connect with others who understand what you’re going through.

Further Reading: More About Pulmonary Hypertension