Pulmonary Hypertension: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Pulmonary hypertension refers to the increased blood pressure within the arteries that carry blood to and from the heart. There are many causes of this disease, for which there is no cure. Those with pulmonary hypertension can ease their symptoms, however, with a treatment plan of medication, oxygen therapy, and physical exercise.

When the pressure in the arteries that lead from the heart to the lungs is too high, it results in pulmonary hypertension. There are five groups, outlined by the World Health Organization, that are organized based on the cause of the condition. They all share the same name—pulmonary hypertension—except for the first, which is called pulmonary arterial hypertension.

Pulmonary hypertension typically develops between the ages of 20 to 60, but it can occur at any age, and affects more women than men. The true number of cases of pulmonary arterial hypertension, the first of the types, is unknown, but it is relatively rare disease in that it affects only about 1 in 100,000 to 1,000,000 million people. It is more common in those with a family history of the disease.

To understand how pulmonary hypertension affects the body, it is first important to understand how the heart and lungs work in conjunction with each other. The right ventricle of the heart pumps blood to the pulmonary arteries, which travels to the lungs to collect oxygen. The blood then travels back to the heart via the left ventricle, where it is pumped to the rest of the body. When a person has pulmonary hypertension, it is more difficult for his or her heart to pump the blood through the pulmonary arteries and into the lungs

It develops when the arteries become narrowed, blocked, or destroyed, either by tightening of the artery walls, blood clots, or cell overgrowth. The blood pressure in these arteries is usually fairly low; the average pressure in healthy arteries is 8-20 mmHg at rest, but in affected pulmonary arteries, it is 25 mmHg or higher.

A person with PH will experience a variety of symptoms:
  • Shortness of breath during non-strenuous activities, like climbing stairs
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Pain located on the upper right side of the abdomen
  • Loss of appetite

As the condition worsens, more symptoms appear:
  • Light-headedness
  • Fainting
  • Leg and ankle swelling
  • Bluish color on lips and skin
There are many causes of, or even just conditions that associate with, pulmonary hypertension. Congenital heart disease, liver disease, HIV, a parasitic infection called Schistosomiasis, and genetics can contribute to the development of pulmonary hypertension. Pulmonary hypertension has no cure, and unfortunately has a poor prognosis. About half of all patients diagnosed with the condition die within five years. Treatments do, however, exist to ease the discomfort and slow the progression of the disease; these include diuretics, blood-thinning medication, inhaled or injected medication, physical exercise, surgery, and oxygen therapy, which can help raise the oxygen levels in the blood.

Although the disease will worsen with age, many patients that receive proper treatment and adjust their lifestyle find that they can carry out their daily activities and tasks.

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For more information about pulmonary hypertension, talk to your doctor or primary care provider.

Page last updated: August 1, 2023


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