inflamed lungs graphic

Pulmonary hypertension (PH) is high blood pressure in the blood vessels of the lungs. This rare and life-threatening condition makes it difficult for blood to flow from the heart to the lungs. PH gets worse over time, and it affects men and women of all ages and ethnic backgrounds.

High blood pressure in the lungs places extra stress on the right side of your heart — and puts you at risk for heart failure and left heart disease, among other conditions.

The most common symptom of PH is shortness of breath with exertion, and this worsens over time.

Types of Pulmonary Hypertension

  • Pulmonary Hypertension is a common term used to describe high blood pressure in the lungs, resulting from any cause.
  • Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension is a chronic condition that causes the lungs’ arteries to tighten, constricting blood flow. Over time, this condition can cause the heart to enlarge and become less flexible. Pulmonary arterial hypertension may be genetic or associated with another disease or condition, such as congenital heart disease or HIV.

Pulmonary Hypertension Symptoms

PH changes the cells that line your pulmonary arteries.

People with PH may notice that normal physical activities become more difficult to perform. They may also experience some of these symptoms:

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

Causes of Pulmonary Hypertension

Pulmonary hypertension may be caused by a variety of different conditions, all of which affect blood pressure. The causes of PH 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
  • HIV infection
  • Chronic low oxygen levels in the blood for a long time
  • Certain medications
  • Genetics

Risk Factors

These risk factors may make you more likely to develop PH:

  • Family history of PH
  • Obesity
  • Sleep apnea
  • Pregnancy
  • The presence of certain drugs in your body, such as methamphetamines
  • Living at high altitudes

How Is Pulmonary Hypertension Diagnosed?

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

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.

Treatment for Pulmonary Hypertension

While treatment options for pulmonary hypertension are limited, physicians are able to control symptoms and minimize lung damage. Common treatments include medication taken orally, by the nose, or administered intravenously.

If medication isn’t successful in controlling symptoms, heart or lung transplantation may be considered.

Lifestyle Changes for Pulmonary Hypertension

If you’ve been diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, it’s important to work closely with your health care provider.

  • Know the names of your medications and take them as directed. Always consult with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter medicines.
  • You may want to consult with a dietitian. Those with pulmonary hypertension should be sure to eat foods high in potassium, fiber, and magnesium. They should limit their consumption of table salts and refined sugars, and stay away from fast food.
  • If you’re overweight, your doctor will likely recommend a weight loss regimen. You should avoid heavy lifting or overly strenuous activities. Avoid smoking, chewing tobacco, or drinking alcohol.

Living with Pulmonary Hypertension

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

Visit the UPMC Comprehensive Pulmonary Hypertension Program webpage for more information.