For many people, pulmonary hypertension (PH) is a daily reality. It’s a condition that impacts their ability to do things and their overall quality of life. Although there are treatments out there, there is no current cure for pulmonary hypertension. Here is a breakdown of what PH is and the most important things you need to know about this disease.
First of all, what is pulmonary hypertension (PH)?
Pulmonary hypertension (PH) is a condition that impacts your heart and lungs. Blood pressure in your blood vessels becomes too high as these vessels lead from your heart to your lungs. The arteries in your lungs narrow when the pressure is high. Blood no longer flows correctly. The end result is not enough oxygen in your blood. Over time, the muscle in your heart will weaken, and it could fail. This is why pulmonary hypertension may be life-threatening for some people who have this condition.
Symptoms of pulmonary hypertension
If you are in the early stages of pulmonary hypertension, you may feel symptoms that are common with other conditions. These may be symptoms such as feeling fatigued or having a difficult time breathing. Because many other illnesses have these two symptoms, you may go undiagnosed until other more prominent symptoms occur, along with the fatigue and breathing issues.
Those symptoms may include:
- Chest pain
- Racing heartbeat or heart palpitations
- Swollen ankles
- Blue-like color to your skin and lips
What is the cause of pulmonary hypertension?
Genetics can play a part in the cause of this condition. But PH can happen in connection with other lung and heart diseases as well.
Other illnesses and conditions that can be underlying causes behind PH include:
- High blood pressure
- Blood clots in the lungs
- Coronary artery disease
- Connective tissue disease
- Congenital heart disease
- Cirrhosis (liver disease)
- Chronic lung disease
What are the 5 groups of pulmonary hypertension?
Pulmonary hypertension has 5 different groups: Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), pulmonary hypertension due to left-sided heart disease, pulmonary hypertension from lung disease, pulmonary hypertension triggered by severe blood clots, and pulmonary hypertension caused by other chronic health conditions. Each category has different possible causes that may lead to PH becoming a person’s reality.
Here are each group with their underlying causes:
- Heritable pulmonary arterial hypertension: caused by genetics, specifically a genetic mutation that is inherited through families
- Results of using certain prescription diet medications, illegal drug use
- Congenital heart disease
- Illnesses such as lupus, scleroderma, HIV, or cirrhosis of the liver
- Idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension with an unknown cause
- Failure of the left ventricle of the heart
- Aortic valve or mitral valve disease of the left side of the heart
- Sleep apnea that is obstructive
- Being exposed to high altitudes for an extended period of time
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- Pulmonary emboli
- Clotting disorders
- Kidney disease
- Disorders such as glycogen storage disease, which is a metabolic disorder
- Essential thrombocythemia and polycythemia vera blood disorders
- Tumors near the pulmonary arteries
- Vasculitis and sarcoidosis inflammatory diseases
Although not included in the 5 groups of PH, there is also something called Eisenmenger syndrome and pulmonary hypertension. This is a form of congenital heart disease that leads to PH. Often, its cause is a hole in the heart that is large. This hole makes blood flow wrong in your heart. Instead of returning to other areas of your body, your blood flows into the lungs, causing the pressure to increase and causes pulmonary hypertension.
Who is at risk for developing PH?
Although pulmonary hypertension’s likelihood increases with age, people of all ages can develop it, including children. Women are more common to be diagnosed with this condition, especially women who are from a non-Hispanic African American background or who are 75 years of age or older.
Other risk factors may include:
- Being overweight
- Some weight loss medications (You might want to take this weight loss supplement)
- Having a family member with PH
- Blood clotting disorders that run in your family history
- Living at a higher altitude
- Congenital heart disease
- Exposure to asbestos
- Medications such as SSRIs for anxiety and depression
- Illegal drug usage such as cocaine
What are some complications of PH?
Blood clots: There is a higher possibility you may develop blood clots in your lungs. This is more harmful if you already have symptoms that point to narrowed or blocked blood vessels.
Enlarged heart or heart failure: The heart’s right ventricle can become enlarged and because it has to pump more harder through a blocked or narrowed artery, you may develop something called cor pulmonale. The heart will thicken its walls and the chamber of the right ventricle will expand, creating more strain on your heart. The right ventricle of the heart will in time fail.
Bleeding in the lungs: With pulmonary hypertension, a person may experience life-threatening bleeding in the lungs where they cough up blood.
Arrhythmia: An irregular heartbeat is also known as arrhythmia. PH can cause this, leading to dizziness, a racing heartbeat, and fainting. This can be life-threatening for some people.
Complications with pregnancy: If a woman who is pregnant develops pulmonary hypertension, it may be threatening to her and her still developing baby.
Treatment for PH
There are numerous treatments available for those who suffer from pulmonary hypertension. Those may include medications that are inhaled, oxygen therapy, medications administered under the skin in a patient’s veins, and medicines to reduce swelling of the feet.
What can you do to prevent PH?
Often, many forms of pulmonary hypertension cannot be prevented. But there are ways to help prevent other forms and aspects of pulmonary hypertension. You can start by living healthily and making changes in your lifestyle that will help you in the long run. Being sure to manage your blood pressure is also very important. Avoiding tobacco use or stopping the use of tobacco products can help in the prevention of liver disease, heart disease, and chronic lung disease, all that lead to PH.
By incorporating these life changes into your life to help prevent and manage pulmonary hypertension, you are improving your overall quality of life if you live with pulmonary hypertension. Speak to your doctor about this condition and what your treatment plan should look like.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, December 3). Pulmonary hypertension. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/pulmonary_hypertension.htm.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2020, March 20). Pulmonary hypertension. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pulmonary-hypertension/symptoms-causes/syc-20350697.