Pulmonary hypertension (PHT) is a rare but severe disease characterized by high blood pressure in the lungs. Pulmonary hypertension causes the tiny arteries and the capillaries in the lungs to become narrowed, blocked or destroyed. This makes it more difficult for the blood to flow through the lungs which raises the blood pressure within the lungs. PHT develops slowly and worsens over time. PHT is not curable and in serious cases it can lead to death.
Symptoms of pulmonary hypertension
Symptoms are usually not present until PHT has reached advanced stages. Many people have it for years without knowing it. The symptoms are usually worse with pregnancy, during air travel or at higher altitudes.
• Chest pain
• Extreme or constant fatigue
• Shortness of breath during light exertion
• Increased heart rate
• Pain in upper right side of abdomen
• Decreased appetite
• Bluish lips or skin
• Feeling dizzy or light-headed during physical activity
• Swelling in the legs or ankles
Risk factors for pulmonary hypertension
• Genetics (Idiopathic pulmonary hypertension)
• Blocked or narrow arteries
• Blood clots in the lungs
• Sleep disorders
• Sickle cell anemia
• Connective tissue disorders
• Congenital heart disease
• Lung diseases
• Severe liver disease
• Heart failure
• Illegal drug use
• Taking certain appetite-suppressant medications
• Living in highly elevated altitude above 8,000 feet
Diagnosis of pulmonary hypertension
Since there are no early signs or symptoms of PHT it can be hard to diagnose. When symptoms do arise, they are often similar to those of heart or lung conditions such as asthma. A doctor will diagnose pulmonary hypertension based on an individual’s family history, a physical exam and the results from extensive testing.
Treatment for pulmonary hypertension
Currently there is no cure for pulmonary hypertension. However, there are medications available to help patients manage their PHT. In extreme situations open-heart surgery may be necessary. In some cases, a lung or heart-lung transplant could be an option, especially in patients diagnosed as a young age. The following lifestyle changes can also help patients to manage their PHT symptoms:
• Weight loss – Maintaining a health weight can help PHT sufferers to have less symptoms and feel better.
• Quitting smoking – Quitting smoking Is the single most important thing a person can do for their lung and heart health.
• Diet – Avoiding salt and eating a heart healthy diet, full or fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, poultry and low-fat or fat-free dairy products is a great step towards preventing PHT from worsening.
• Exercise – Routine physical exercise can help to improve cardiovascular health. Even mild activity can be challenging for those with PHT but it is important to stay as active as possible. Moderate exercise such as brisk walking can be beneficial. In most cases, it is recommended that individuals with PHT do not lift heavy weights. Always consult with a physician before starting a new exercise regime.
• Get enough sleep – Resting can reduce the fatigue caused by pulmonary hypertension.
• Get vaccines – Influenza and pneumonia can be more serious for PHT sufferers so getting routine vaccines can be beneficial.
• Avoid activities that lower blood pressure – Sitting in a hot tub, hot bath, or sauna or taking a long hot shower can all lower blood pressure and cause light headedness, fainting or even death for individuals with PHT.
• Avoid pregnancy and birth control pills – Pregnancy can be fatal for both the mother suffering from PHT and her child. Birth control pills can increase the chance for blood clots in women with PHT and should therefore be avoided.
• Relaxation – Practicing relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation or breathing exercises can help with the symptoms of PHT.
Medications for pulmonary hypertension:
o Oxygen Therapy – Portable oxygen is inhaled via a face mask or nasal cannula.
o Diuretics – Diuretics help the body to rid of the excess fluid putting pressure on the heart.
o Calcium Channel Clockers (CCB) – CCBs are designed to slow the progression of PHT and even reverse some of the damage to the lungs and heart.
o Digoxin – Digoxin aids the pumping of the heart.
o Warfarin – Warfarin is a blood thinner which also works to prevent blood clots.
The Cardiopulmonary Department of OakBend Medical Center diagnoses and treats medical conditions of the lungs and heart including pulmonary hypertension. Their goal is to give you the support and education that will help you live as independently and comfortably as possible. OakBend Medical Center provides comprehensive programs, combining the latest technology with modern equipment for the testing and treatment of cardiopulmonary and respiratory disorders. To learn more about their tests or practices or to schedule an appointment please call 281-341-3000 today.