What is Pulmonary Hypertension?

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

Pulmonary hypertension (PH) is high blood pressure in the blood vessels in the lungs. It can affect both men and women of all ages and races.

When the pressures in the lungs are high, it causes the right side of the heart to have to work harder. Because of this, it is commonly associated with heart failure and left heart disease. The most common symptom of PH is shortness of breath with exertion, worsening over time.

As is common with age and getting older, performing activities that were once easy in your younger days may seem harder. However, PH is different. If physical activities get more and more complicated and associate with additional symptoms like those listed below, it is important to consult your doctor.

  • Lightheadedness
  • Fatigue
  • Cough or chest pain
  • Passing out
  • Inability to lay flat without being short of breath
  • Swelling of the ankles or abdomen

Pulmonary hypertension may be caused by a variety of different conditions, all of which affect one’s blood pressure. The causes include:

  • Autoimmune diseases that damage the lungs, such as scleroderma and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Birth defects of the heart, heart failure, or heart valve disease
  • Blood clots in the lung (pulmonary embolism), or other lung diseases such as COPD or pulmonary fibrosis
  • Family history of PH
  • HIV infection
  • Low oxygen levels in the blood for a long time (chronic)
  • Medicines (for example, certain diet drugs)

Although it is a relatively uncommon disease, it is important to make an early and accurate diagnosis. If untreated, this condition can lead to right heart failure and increased risk of death.

While treatment options for pulmonary hypertension are limited, physicians are able to control symptoms and further lung damage. Common treatments will include medication taken by mouth, inhaled, or intravenously. If these aren’t successful in controlling the symptoms, heart/lung transplantation may be considered.

The only way to be sure about a pulmonary hypertension diagnosis is to consult with your physician or a pulmonologist who specializes in treating lung diseases.

To learn more about pulmonary hypertension or to schedule an appointment with a pulmonary hypertension specialist, call  412-648-6161, or toll-free at  1-877-PH4-UPMC, or email PHprogram@upmc.edu.


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