The Blood Pressure Center

What Is Pulmonary Hypertension?

Pulmonary hypertension is a relatively rare disease. Only 2-3 million people are diagnosed yearly and around fifteen people out of every million currently live with the condition. Although this is not a huge number compared to some chronic illnesses, we nevertheless recommend that people should be able to spot pulmonary hypertension symptoms.

Because there are numerous causes it can be hard to identify if you are at risk and, left untreated, the average length of survival is between two and three years. If you are diagnosed, however, there are several treatment options available that may allow you to continue to live a long and fulfilling life.

Although it is best known for causing heart failure, pulmonary hypertension is actually a lung disease that affects the pulmonary arteries running from your lungs to the right ventricle of your heart. These arteries become narrow, making it difficult for blood to flow properly and greatly increasing blood pressure. The strain of high blood pressure causes your heart's right ventricle to become enlarged and, over time, weakened. Right heart failure occurs when the right side of your heart has become too weak to pump enough blood to the lungs.

Who Suffers from Pulmonary Hypertension Symptoms?

When looking for pulmonary hypertension symptoms there are a few things you should be aware of.

the heart and lungs of woman suffering from pulmonary hypertension

First, you should consider who is most susceptible to the disease. While no age, race, gender or ethnicity is completely exempt, if you are a woman or a young adult, you may face a higher risk. In fact, women are twice as likely to suffer from pulmonary hypertension as men are. Some forms are passed on genetically, so you may also be at high risk if your family has a history of the condition. If you ever took the diet drug Fen-phen (a combination of dexfenfluramine and phentermine used as an anti-obesity medication in the 1990s) your chance of developing pulmonary hypertension is twenty-three times higher than if you did not take the drug.

Pulmonary hypertension can also be caused by a number of other medical conditions. If you suffer from a liver disease, rheumatic disorder, lung condition, thromboembolic disease or a heart condition such as aortic valve disease, mitral valve disease, left heart failure, or congenital heart disease we recommend extra diligence when looking for symptoms. A shortage of oxygen due to obesity, sleep apnea or even because you live at a high altitude, can also lead to pulmonary hypertension.

What Pulmonary Hypertension Symptoms Should You Look For?

Once you have identified that you are at risk, we recommend paying close attention for the symptoms themselves. They may not be noticeable until the condition has progressed and it is important to identify them as soon as they occur so that you can see a physician for diagnosis and treatment. Because the symptoms also progress slowly, you may fail to identify them and fail to see a doctor in time.

The first symptom to present itself is usually shortness of breath during a minor exertion such as brisk walking or climbing stairs. Over time, you may start to notice fatigue, dizziness, fainting, irregular or racing heart beat, chest pain and an unproductive cough. As your heart becomes more strained, you may notice swelling in your ankles and legs, and a blue tinge to your skin, particularly around the lips. Symptoms can be very severe in the late stages of pulmonary hypertension, making it difficult for you to perform any type of physical activity. In extreme cases, you may even find it hard to breathe when lying down. That said, not everybody has every symptom. If you suspect that you might be suffering from pulmonary hypertension we recommend seeing a doctor immediately.

Diagnosis of Pulmonary Hypertension

Your doctor will look for a number of additional pulmonary hypertension symptoms when making a diagnosis. Aside from a complete family and medical history, he will listen to your heart for abnormal sounds, look for swelling in the jugular vein in your neck and examine your nail beds for a bluish tint. He may also perform blood tests to analyze the amount of oxygen in your blood and to look for symptoms of other conditions that can lead to pulmonary hypertension. He may check for blood clots or swelling of your right ventricle with a chest x-ray or CT scan. Once he is confident in his diagnosis you will be able to discuss medication and other treatment options that can ensure you a comfortable, healthy life.


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