Cor pulmonale is a condition that causes the right side of the heart to fail. Long-term high blood pressure in the arteries of the lung and right ventricle of the heart can lead to cor pulmonale.
High blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs is called pulmonary hypertension. It is the most common cause of cor pulmonale.
In people who have pulmonary hypertension, changes in the small blood vessels inside the lungs can lead to increased blood pressure in the right side of the heart. This makes it harder for the heart to pump blood to the lungs. If this high pressure continues, it puts a strain on the right side of the heart. That strain can cause cor pulmonale.
Lung conditions that cause a low blood oxygen level in the blood over a long time can also lead to cor pulmonale. Some of these are:
Shortness of breath or lightheadedness during activity is often the first symptom of cor pulmonale. You may also have a fast heartbeat and feel like your heart is pounding.
Over time, symptoms occur with lighter activity or even while you are at rest. Symptoms you may have are:
Your health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms. The exam may find:
These tests may help diagnose cor pulmonale as well as its cause:
The goal of treatment is to control symptoms. It is important to treat medical problems that cause pulmonary hypertension, because they can lead to cor pulmonale.
Many treatment options are available. In general, the cause of your cor pulmonale will determine which treatment you receive.
If your provider prescribes medicines, you may take them by mouth (oral), receive them through a vein (intravenous or IV), or breathe them in (inhaled). You will be closely monitored during treatment to watch for side effects and to see how well the medicine works for you. Never stop taking your medicines without first talking to your doctor.
Other treatments may include:
Important tips to follow:
How well you do depends on the cause of your cor pulmonale.
As your illness gets worse, you will need to make changes to your home so that you can manage as well as possible. You will also need help around your house.
Cor pulmonale may lead to:
Call your provider if you have shortness of breath or chest pain.
Do not smoke. Smoking causes lung disease, which can lead to cor pulmonale.
Reviewed By: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Paul F. Harron, Jr. Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.