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Pulmonary hypertension

Pulmonary hypertension is raised blood pressure within the pulmonary arteries, which are the blood vessels that supply the lungs.

It is a serious medical condition that can damage the right side of the heart, making the heart less efficient at pumping blood around the body and getting oxygen to the muscles.

Symptoms of pulmonary hypertension include:

Read more about the symptoms of pulmonary hypertension.

What happens in pulmonary hypertension

In a healthy person, blood travels through the pulmonary arteries from the right-hand side of the heart, picking up oxygen when it reaches the lungs.

Oxygen-rich blood from the lungs returns to the left-hand side of the heart, where it is pumped around the body to the muscles, where the oxygen is needed.

During exercise, the demand for oxygen increases so the heart beats quicker and the pulmonary arteries usually widen to let more blood flow through to the lungs.

However, if you have pulmonary hypertension, the walls of your pulmonary arteries are thick and stiff, making it difficult for them to expand to allow more blood through. Alternatively, your pulmonary arteries may be blocked by blood clots which can also hinder blood flow.

The reduced blood flow makes it difficult for the right-hand side of your heart to pump blood through the arteries, which means that this part of the heart has to work harder.

If the right-hand side of your heart has to continually work harder, it may gradually become weaker. This will make it less efficient at pumping blood and can lead to heart failure.

Read more about the causes of pulmonary hypertension.

Diagnosing pulmonary hypertension

Correctly diagnosing pulmonary hypertension can sometimes take time because its symptoms are similar to many other heart and lung conditions.

However, pulmonary hypertension can be a serious condition so it is important you visit your GP if you experience symptoms.

They will ask about your symptoms and medical history. Tests, including an echocardiogram (a type of ultrasound scan) and an electrodardiogram (tests the electrical rhythm of your heart) can be used to see how well your heart and pulmonary arteries are working.

Read more about how pulmonary hypertension is diagnosed.

Treating pulmonary hypertension

Pulmonary hypertension is a serious condition that usually gets progressively worse. Left untreated, it may cause heart failure which can be fatal.

If pulmonary hypertension is caused by an existing condition, such as heart disease, lung disease or a blood clot, the underlying condition should be treated first. In some cases, this can prevent the pulmonary arteries being permanently damaged.

If you have a type of pulmonary hypertension known as pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), you will be referred to a centre that specialises in treating the condition. There are currently seven specialist centres in England and one in Scotland. They are:

A number of medications can be used to treat PAH and other types of pulmonary hypertension. To start with, anticoagulant medicines and diuretics may be recommended. Later on, a number of more specialist medications may be prescribed.

Read more about treating pulmonary hypertension.

Outlook

Symptoms of pulmonary hypertension, such as breathlessness, can significantly affect your quality of life as you may be unable to continue with your regular activities. Therefore, it is important treatment is started as soon as possible to improve your symptoms.

With the introduction of new medicines, people are now able to live longer with PAH. One study found about two-thirds of people lived for more than five years after their diagnosis. 

Your outlook will depend on how quickly the condition is diagnosed, how advanced your symptoms are and whether you have another underlying health condition.



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