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Pulmonary Hypertension FAQ

Everything you need to know to better understand your diagnosis.
By Dr. Priyanka Rajaram

A new diagnosis can leave you with many questions and concerns. To help you from feeling lost, our pulmonary hypertension specialist, Dr. Priyanka Rajaram, answers some of the most frequently asked questions when receiving this diagnosis.

What is it?

Pulmonary hypertension (PH) refers to a type of high blood pressure that affects the arteries in your lungs and the right side of your heart. This occurs when the tiny arteries in your lungs, called pulmonary arterioles, become narrowed, blocked or destroyed, making it challenging for proper blood flow.

PH can be classified in one of five ways, based on varying causes.

Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH)

The cause of PAH is typically unknown, but in some cases, it has been linked to congenital heart disease, connective tissue disease, HIV or liver disease.

PAH is a rare condition that is different from the other groups of PH, which are caused by underlying conditions of the heart, lungs or other organs. Symptoms are difficult to diagnose as it usually begins with subtle changes in breathing, chest painor fatigue.

PH caused by left-sided heart disease

If you’ve been diagnosed with left ventricular heart failure, then your risk of developing PH may increase.

PH caused by left-sided heart disease is the most common group of PH diagnosed in patients.

PH caused by lung disease

Similar to PH caused by left-sided heart disease, you can develop PH if you have been diagnosed with interstitial lung disease (ILD) or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

With the development of PH, your COPD and ILD symptoms including cough and difficulty breathing can worsen, along with the emergence of dizziness and swelling of the ankles and legs.

PH caused by blood clots

About three to four percent of patients with large pulmonary embolism (PE) or recurrent PEs can develop pulmonary hypertension. This type of diagnosis is called chronic thromboembolic PH. Another cause of this type of PH is tumors growing in the pulmonary arteries. In many cases, this type of PH has a cure.

PH associated with other conditions

While less common, there are still a handful of other conditions that can increase your risk of developing PH. These include:

  • End-stage renal disease (the last phase of kidney disease), sarcoidosis (a disorder affecting several different organs), sickle cell disease (a genetic blood disease affecting red blood cells) to name a few.

What are the symptoms of pulmonary hypertension?

Symptoms that are common to PH include:

  • Chest pressure or pain
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea) with exertion
  • Difficulty breathing while laying flat
  • Swelling in your ankles, legs and occasionally abdomen
  • Heart palpitations
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness or fainting (syncope)

What puts me at risk of pulmonary hypertension?

There are many factors to keep in mind when evaluating the development of PH, including:

  • Age - when the cause of PAH is typically unknown, is more common in young adults
  • Pre-existing illness which predispose patients to PH (scleroderma, liver disease, HIV, heart disease, ILD, sarcoidosis, end-stage renal disease, pulmonary embolism)
  • Consuming certain drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine or appetite-suppressants
  • Family history of PH
  • Living at high altitudes

How is pulmonary hypertension diagnosed?

An echocardiogram is used as a screening tool to detect the presence of PH. A diagnosis is confirmed by performing a heart catheterization by a PH specialist.

Can pulmonary hypertension be prevented?

Many types of PH stem from other diseases, genetics or unknown causes. Avoiding some of the controllable risk factors and receiving treatment for the underlying illnesses listed above, can help reduce your risk of developing this condition.

How is pulmonary hypertension treated?

Depending on your type of pulmonary hypertension, your specialist will provide medications and treatment options that are right for your condition. The medications can be administered in a number of ways including orally, through inhalation, beneath the skin or intravenously.

To learn more about PH and our PH specialist, please visit Dr. Priyanka Rajaram's profile or schedule an appointment by calling 630-871-6699.


Topics and Subtopics: Respiratory Problems

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