Health Care

What You Need to Know About Pulmonary Hypertension

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When your heart is forced to work harder than normal to pump blood into the lungs, it’s called pulmonary hypertension. The condition develops when the blood pressure in the lungs is higher than normal. Over time, it damages the heart and causes symptoms like shortness of breath. Although there’s no cure for pulmonary hypertension, there are treatments that can help reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Pulmonary Hypertension

Pulmonary hypertension is a general term for high blood pressure in the lungs — specifically, high blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries, which carry oxygen-depleted blood from the heart to the lungs.

The condition narrows the pulmonary arteries, making your heart work harder to pump blood to the lungs and, eventually, causing it to weaken. And it’s dangerous since it affects blood flow from the heart to the lungs.

Pulmonary hypertension also can cause other problems in the body, including:

  • Anemia
  • Arrhythmia
  • Blood clots

Causes of Pulmonary Hypertension

Pulmonary hypertension can develop on its own or as a result of a heart or lung disease. The most common type of the condition is caused by left-sided heart disease, often a complication of mitral valve disease (a problem with the valve that connects your top left and bottom left heart chambers) or aortic valve disease (a problem with the valve between the lower left heart chamber and the main artery).

Other risk factors for pulmonary hypertension include:

  • A family history of pulmonary hypertension or blood-clotting disorders
  • A history of smoking
  • Asbestos exposure
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Use of certain drugs, including illegal ones like cocaine and methamphetamine

Getting older can also increase your risk of a type of pulmonary hypertension called pulmonary arterial hypertension, or PAH. Another type of pulmonary hypertension, called chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension (CTEPH) — or chronic thromboembolic pulmonary disease (CTEPD) — is caused by chronic blood clots or blockages, such as tumors, in the pulmonary artery.

Symptoms of Pulmonary Hypertension

Most of the time, the first symptom of pulmonary hypertension is shortness of breath. Just going up the stairs or walking around the grocery store can make you feel winded. As pulmonary hypertension progresses, symptoms tend to worsen, meaning you may experience shortness of breath even when you’re resting.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines four main stages, or “functional classes,” of pulmonary hypertension. These stages refer to the worsening of symptoms over time:

  • Class 1: No symptoms
  • Class 2: Shortness of breath or chest discomfort during normal, everyday activities but no symptoms while resting
  • Class 3: Severe shortness of breath while performing normal activities and potential discomfort while resting, too
  • Class 4: Symptoms while resting and severe symptoms when trying to perform normal activities

Besides shortness of breath, other common symptoms of pulmonary hypertension include:

  • A racing heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling in the ankles, legs or stomach

Treatments for Pulmonary Hypertension

If you’re diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, your treatment will depend on the type you have, as well as other factors like your medical history, overall health and personal preferences.

Treatments for pulmonary hypertension include medications like calcium channel blockers, which work by lowering the blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries, and pulmonary vasodilators, which help the pulmonary arteries relax. Other treatments may include oxygen therapy, procedures that help widen the pulmonary arteries or repair the heart valve, and dietary and lifestyle changes.

Our Commitment to Your Heart Health

At AdventHealth, we know that every second counts when it comes to your heart. That’s why we provide prevention tools and treatments that help give you the best possible quality of life and the best possible outcome. Our cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons are experts at delivering leading-edge heart care to keep your heart healthy. Learn about heart and vascular care at AdventHealth.

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