Living with Pulmonary Hypertension.
What is Pulmonary Hypertension?
Pulmonary hypertension (PH) can be a serious medical condition.
During exercise, the heart beats quicker to get more oxygen to the muscles. At the same time, the blood vessels (the pulmonary arteries) carrying blood to the lungs expand to allow more blood through. With PH, the walls of the pulmonary arteries are thicker, and are less able to stretch. So, the heart has to work harder to pump blood to the lungs.
Over a long period (months or years), this can put a strain on the heart, and it can start to work less effectively.
How common is Pulmonary Hypertension?
Pulmonary hypertension is a rare condition affecting one to two people in every one million. Older women are at higher risk of the condition, but it can affect men and women of all ages.
In the vast majority of cases, PH is associated with another medical condition including:
- Portal hypertension
- Connective tissue disease (e.g. systemic sclerosis)
- HIV infection
- Congenital heart disease
- Sickle cell anaemia.
PH should not be confused with hypertension (high blood pressure).
What are the common symptoms associated with Pulmonary Hypertension?
PH might not be noticeable for months or even years. As the disease progresses, symptoms become worse. Where symptoms are present they can include:
- Shortness of breath while exercising (and eventually while at rest)
- Racing pulse or heart palpitations
- Dizziness or fainting spells
- Chest pressure or pain
- Swelling in your ankles, legs, and eventually in your abdomen
- A bluish discolouration of the lips and skin caused by low oxygen (cyanosis).
PH can lead to complications, including heart enlargement and heart failure, blood clots, arrhythmia and bleeding into the lungs. On occasion, PH can be fatal.
How is Pulmonary Hypertension treated?
If you have PH, it is essential to find out which type of PH you have. Not all forms are serious.
Treatment options will depend on the type and severity of PH you have. Some treatments relieve the symptoms of PH, and therefore improve quality of life. Others slow the progression of PH and can also help to reverse damage to the heart and lungs.
Treatment for PH includes:
- Conventional therapy
- Targeted therapy
Many PH patients are treated with both conventional and targeted therapies.