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Pulmonary Hypertension

Pulmonary hypertension is high pressure in the blood vessels that carry blood into the lungs. This strains the lungs and heart and can lead to serious problems.

Systemic hypertension means the pressure is too high in blood vessels throughout the body. A person with pulmonary hypertension may also have systemic hypertension.

Causes of pulmonary hypertension

The cause of pulmonary hypertension is sometimes unknown. But it is most often caused by another health problem. In many cases, controlling this health problem can help prevent or control pulmonary hypertension. Some of the most common causes of pulmonary hypertension are:

In children

  • Severe lung problems in a newborn

  • Lung conditions, such as cystic fibrosis or interstitial lung disease

  • Heart disease

  • Congenital heart defects

  • HIV infection

  • Other conditions, such as scleroderma, lupus, or sickle cell disease

In adults

  • Lung conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), advanced bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, or pulmonary fibrosis

  • Liver disease

  • Blood clots in the lungs

  • Left-sided heart failure

  • HIV infection

  • Sleep apnea

  • Other conditions, such as scleroderma, lupus, or sickle cell disease

Symptoms of pulmonary hypertension

Symptoms may come on suddenly. Or, they may come on slowly over time. Symptoms can include:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Blue lips or fingernails (signs that the body is having trouble getting oxygen)

  • Tiring quickly, especially when active

  • Fast heartbeat

  • Pain in the upper right side of the abdomen

  • Swelling in the legs or ankles

  • Chest pain or pressure

  • Fainting or dizzy spells

Diagnosing pulmonary hypertension

Your health care provider will examine you and listen to your heart and lungs. Your blood pressure will also be measured. Tests may be done as well. These may include:

  • Blood tests. These measure certain body functions. They also check for problems such as infection.

  • A chest X-ray. This takes a picture of the inside of the chest. It can show certain heart and lung problems.

  • An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). This test records the heart’s electrical activity.

  • An echocardiogram (echo). This test uses sound waves to create a moving picture of the heart.

  • Pulmonary function tests. These tests measure breathing and lung capacity.

  • Cardiac catheterization. This procedure gives detailed information about the heart’s structures. A thin tube (catheter) is put into a blood vessel in the groin or neck and guided into the right side of the heart. Certain blood pressure tests are then done.

Treating pulmonary hypertension

Treatment depends on your age, health, and the severity of your symptoms. Any underlying health problems you have will be treated. Treatment may also include:

  • Oxygen

  • Medication to lower the pressure in the lung blood vessels

  • Medication to help the body lose excess water

  • Medication to prevent blood clots

  • Medications that help the heart beat stronger, pump more blood and control abnormal heart rhythms

Long-term concerns

Though pulmonary hypertension has no cure, certain treatments may relieve symptoms and slow progression of the disease. In rare and severe cases, a lung transplant may be needed. Your health care provider can tell you more about this if needed.

When to seek medical care

Call your health care provider right away if you have any of the following:

  • Persistent blueness of lips or fingernails

  • Shortness of breath

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher

  • Fainting spells

Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Sather, Rita, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 10/9/2014
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