Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs. It makes the right side of the heart work harder than normal.
The right side of the heart pumps blood through the lungs, where it picks up oxygen. Blood returns to the left side of the heart, where it is pumped to the rest of the body.
When the small arteries (blood vessels) of the lungs become narrowed, they cannot carry as much blood. When this happens, pressure builds up. This is called pulmonary hypertension.
The heart needs to work harder to force the blood through the vessels against this pressure. Over time, this causes the right side of the heart to become larger. This condition is called right-sided heart failure, or cor pulmonale.
Pulmonary hypertension may be caused by:
In rare cases, the cause of pulmonary hypertension is unknown. In this case, the condition is called idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension (IPAH). Idiopathic means the cause of a disease is not known. IPAH affects more women than men.
If pulmonary hypertension is caused by a known medicine or medical condition, it is called secondary pulmonary hypertension.
Shortness of breath or lightheadedness during activity is often the first symptom. Fast heart rate (palpitations) may be present. Over time, symptoms occur with lighter activity or even while at rest.
Other symptoms include:
People with pulmonary hypertension often have symptoms that come and go. They report good days and bad days.
Your health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms. The exam may find:
In the early stages of the disease, the exam may be normal or almost normal. The condition may take several months to diagnose. Asthma and other diseases may cause similar symptoms and must be ruled out.
Tests that may be ordered include:
There is no cure for pulmonary hypertension. The goal of treatment is to control symptoms and prevent more lung damage. It is important to treat medical disorders that cause pulmonary hypertension, such as obstructive sleep apnea, lung conditions, and heart valve problems.
Many treatment options for pulmonary arterial hypertension are available. If you are prescribed medicines, they may be taken by mouth (oral), received through the vein (intravenous, or IV), or breathed in (inhaled).
Your provider will decide which medicine is best for you. You will be closely monitored during treatment to watch for side effects and to see how well you are responding to the medicine. DO NOT stop taking your medicines without talking to your provider.
Other treatments may include:
Other important tips to follow:
How well you do depends on what caused the condition. Medicines for IPAH may help slow the disease.
As the illness gets worse, you will need to make changes in your home to help you get around the house.
Call your provider if:
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.