Symptoms & Treatment of Pulmonary Vascular Disease

As we mentioned in the previous post, pulmonary vascular disease is not a single disease, but rather a group of disorders affecting the blood flow to or from the lungs.

Regardless of which specific disorder is occurring, the symptoms can vary depending on the suddenness of the process, which vessels are affected, and how much of the pulmonary vascular system is affected.  For example, a sudden, large, pulmonary embolism that blocks a large artery can cause sever shortness of breath and chest pain.  On the other hand, a small pulmonary embolism that blocks only a small blood vessel may not cause any noticeable symptoms.

Below is a brief discussion of the symptoms for some of the pulmonary vascular diseases.  This overview is not meant to be used for diagnosis.  If you or someone you know is concerned about a potential lung problem, they should see a doctor immediately for proper diagnosis.

Chronic thromboembolic disease causes shortness of breath, especially during physical exertion.  It can also result in an unexplained loss of ability to participate in everyday activities.

Pulmonary venous hypertension also causes shortness of breath that may be worse when lying flat, when blood pressure is uncontrolled, or when extra fluid is present.

Arteriovenous malformations (AVMS) presents few significant symptoms and the disease is often discovered only incidentally. Seizures and headaches are the most common symptoms, but they can be of varying types and severity.  Other symptoms may include muscle weakness, loss of coordination, dizziness, problems with the eyes, abnormal numbness, memory difficulties, and others.

Pulmonary arterial hypertension most often causes shortness of breath that progressively worsens over time.  Chest pain or fainting with exertion can also occur.

Pulmonary embolism can cause shortness of breath, chest pain (worse with deep breaths), and a rapid heart rate.  Depending on the size and location of the blood clot, symptoms can range from barely noticeable to severe.

Pulmonary edema can cause shortness of breath that worsens when lying down, a frothy cough tinged with blood, excessive sweating, and swelling in the legs and ankles.

To properly diagnose one of these conditions, a doctor may perform several tests including:

  • CT scan
  • Ventilation/perfusion (V/Q) scan
  • Echocardiogram
  • Right heart catheterization
  • Chest X-ray
  • Pulmonary angiogram

Depending on the specifics of the disorder and the patient’s overall health, a doctor may prescribe one or a combination of the treatments listed below.

  • blood thinners
  • surgery
  • blood pressure medication
  • diuretics
  • enzyme inhibitors
  • immuno-suppresants
  • supplementary oxygen therapy
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