Pulmonary Hypertension


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.1

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.2

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.3

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.4

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 skin5

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.

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Additional Diseases Info:

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alveolus air sac where gas exchange takes place.
angina chest pain.
aorta blood vessel that delivers oxygen-rich blood from the left ventricle to the body; it is the largest blood vessel in the body.
apex top portion of the upper lobes of the lungs.
atrium one of the two receiving chambers of the heart.
base bottom portion of lower lobes, located just above the diaphragm.
blood pressure pressure of blood against the walls of a blood vessel or heart chamber.
bronchiolitis inflammation that involves the bronchioles (small airways).
bronchoscopy the examination of the bronchi (the main airways of the lungs) using a flexible tube (bronchoscope). Bronchoscopy helps to evaluate and diagnose lung problems, assess blockages, obtain samples of tissue and/or fluid, and/or to help remove a foreign body.
bronchus large airways; lung divides into right and left bronchi.
cardiac output total amount of blood being pumped by the heart over a particular period of time.
catheter thin, flexible medical tube; one use is to insert it into a blood vessel to measure blood pressure.
constrict tighten; narrow.
cyanosis bluish color in the skin because of insufficient oxygen.
diaphragm primary muscle used for respiration, located just below the lung bases.
diastolic pressure lowest pressure to which blood pressure falls between contractions of the ventricles.
dilate relax; expand.
dyspnea sensation of difficulty in breathing.
edema swelling due to the buildup of fluid.
endothelial cells the delicate lining, only one cell thick, of the organs of circulation.
expiration exhaling; giving off carbon dioxide.
heartbeat one complete contraction of the heart.
hyperactive describes a situation in which a body tissue is especially likely to have an exaggerated reaction to a particular situation.
hypertension abnormally high blood pressure.
hypotension abnormally low blood pressure.
inspiration inhaling; taking in oxygen.
lobectomy removal of an entire lobe of the lung.
lung volume the amount of air the lungs hold.
mean blood pressure average blood pressure, taking account of the rise and fall that occurs with each heartbeat. It is often estimated by multiplying the diastolic pressure by two, adding the systolic pressure, and then dividing this sum by three.
palpitation sensation of rapid heartbeats.
perfusion flow.
pleura membrane that covers the outside of the lung.
pneumonectomy removal of an entire lung.
pulmonary artery blood vessel delivering oxygen-poor blood from the right ventricle to the lungs.
pulmonary hypertension abnormally high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs.
smooth muscle muscle that performs automatic tasks, such as constricting blood vessels.
spirogram record of the amounts of air being moved in and out of the lungs.
syncope fainting; temporary loss of consciousness.
systemic relating to a process that affects the body generally; in this instance, the way in which blood is supplied through the aorta to all body organs except the lungs.
systolic pressure the highest pressure to which blood pressure rises with the contraction of the ventricles.
vasodilator agent that widens blood vessels.
ventilation movement of air (gases) in and out of the lungs.
ventricle one of the two pumping chambers of the heart; right ventricle receives oxygen-poor blood from the right atrium and pumps it to the lungs through the pulmonary artery; left ventricle receives oxygen-rich blood from the left atrium and pumps it to the body through the aorta.