The term hypertension is often used to describe high blood pressure. However, pulmonary hypertension (PH) is a chronic and progressive disease that describes high blood pressure in the lungs causing low levels of oxygen in the blood.
The following will provide more information on the possible causes, symptoms, and treatment options for PH. There is no cure so appropriate medical treatment is key to managing the disease.
According to the World Health Organization, PH is classified into five groups based on different causes. The most common is PH due to left heart disease which comprises 68% of those diagnosed (source-Pulmonary Hypertension Association). In all cases, PH is a very serious condition and if left untreated can result in heart failure or death.
Based on information provided by the American Lung Association, common symptoms associated with PH include shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, heart palpitations, light-headedness/fainting, or edema – swelling from fluid retention in the ankles, legs, or abdomen. Some of the symptoms may be moderate, or they can cause great difficulty in carrying out normal activities of daily living. Additionally, early diagnosis can also be challenging as a person may not experience any noticeable changes in symptoms because of pre-existing medical conditions.
The causes of PH include congestive heart failure, blood clots in the lungs, illegal drug use, liver disease, autoimmune diseases, lung disease, HIV, or sleep apnea. In some cases, the origin may be genetic, environmental, or unknown. Young children with Congenital Heart Defects are also vulnerable to PH.
Raj Parikh, MD, MPH is a Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Pulmonary Vascular Disease Specialist at Hartford Hospital. “Pulmonary hypertension is rare in the sense that it is often overlooked. The most commonly missed etiologies of PH include Scleroderma, a type of autoimmune disease, and blood clots in the lungs. Certain diseases such as HIV, liver disease, and autoimmune diseases require frequent screening for PH given they are such prominent risk factors,” said Dr. Parikh.
When there is concern that a patient may have PH, it is important to have an expert or pulmonologist with a specialty in PH review medical history and symptoms and decide if additional testing is needed to determine a diagnosis.
Based on the type of PH that is identified, medication options may include, but are not limited to, oxygen, diuretics, blood thinning medications, or calcium channel blockers to help lower blood pressure in the lungs. More aggressive therapies to open up the blood vessels can come in a variety of forms including a pill, inhaler, or IV pump. In severe cases and where qualified, a lung transplant may be needed.
For a comprehensive reference on PH, including resources on local providers, please visit the Pulmonary Hypertension Association at www.phaassociation.org.
The key to maximizing quality of life involves maintaining a healthy diet, exercising, and finding the appropriate physician and treatments.
Column is written by Laura Falt, director of business development in Connecticut. Laura welcomes the opportunity to be a resource to the community on services for older adults and is often featured in local publications.