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What is Pulmonary Hypertension?

Although pulmonary hypertension affects only about 15 to 50 people per million, it is a serious disease.

Pulmonary hypertension (PH) is high blood pressure in the arteries serving the lungs and right side of the heart. Sometimes called pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), pulmonary hypertension makes the heart work harder to circulate blood around the body. Pulmonary hypertension is a life-changing, chronic condition that can lead to heart failure if left untreated.

People with PH experience shortness of breath, dizziness, and fatigue. The severity of the symptoms usually correlates with the progression of the disease. In other words, the symptoms grow more severe as blood pressure rises in those arteries.

Causes of Pulmonary Hypertension

The heart has two upper chambers, or atria, and two lower chambers known as ventricles. Blood flows into the lower right ventricle, which then pumps the blood to the lungs through the pulmonary artery. Once in the lungs, the blood releases carbon dioxide and picks up oxygen then flows back to the left chambers of the heart through pulmonary arteries, veins, and capillaries.

Pulmonary hypertension develops when cells that line the pulmonary arteries grow thick and stiff. Extra tissue may form inside the pulmonary arteries. Affected blood vessels may tighten and become inflamed. These changes in the pulmonary arteries can reduce or even block blood flow, and this increases blood pressure inside the arteries.

Doctors classify pulmonary hypertension into five categories, depending on its cause.

Group 1: Caused by a gene mutation, using prescription diet pills, illicit drugs or other medications, heart problems present at birth, or diseases, such as lupus, HIV, or chronic liver disease. This group also includes idiopathic pulmonary hypertension, which occurs when there is no clear cause of the disease.

Group 2: The result of diseases affecting the left side of the heart.

Group 3: Resulting from lung disease, such as emphysema, sleep apnea, scarring of lung tissue, and long-term exposure to high altitudes.

Group 4: Caused by blood clots in the lung.

Group 5: Associated with other conditions, such as blood disorders and tumors.

Anyone can develop pulmonary hypertension but certain risk factors make some people more susceptible to PH. Young adults are at greater risk for idiopathic pulmonary hypertension. Overweight individuals are also at risk, as are those with a family history of the disease, who use drugs, or have a condition that leads to pulmonary hypertension.

Detection of Pulmonary Hypertension

Doctors now have a number of tools to help them detect pulmonary hypertension. Echocardiography uses sound waves to create a picture of the heart, chest X-rays, EKGs, CT scans, and lung function tests are also helpful. Virtual imaging is a non-invasive imaging technique that provides doctors with the accurate imaging they need to detect and diagnose pulmonary hypertension quickly. Virtual imaging features the world’s fastest Computed Tomography (CT) imaging platform.

Once doctors accurately diagnose pulmonary hypertension, they can recommend a treatment plan that may include medications to open narrowed blood vessels and relaxing the muscles lining the walls of these arteries.

For more information on pulmonary hypertension, talk to your doctor or heart imaging specialist. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at 770.730.0119 today to make an appointment with Virtual Imaging.

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