Pulmonary hypertension is a type of high blood pressure that affects only the arteries in the lungs and the right side of your heart.
Pulmonary hypertension begins when tiny arteries in your lungs, called pulmonary arteries, and capillaries become narrowed, blocked or destroyed. This makes it harder for blood to flow through your lungs, which raises pressure within the arteries in your lungs. As the pressure builds, your heart's lower right chamber (right ventricle) must work harder to pump blood through your lungs, eventually causing your heart muscle to weaken and eventually fail completely.
Pulmonary hypertension is a serious illness that becomes progressively worse and is sometimes fatal. Although pulmonary hypertension isn't curable, treatments are available that can help lessen symptoms and improve your quality of life.
The signs and symptoms of pulmonary hypertension in its early stages may not be noticeable for months or even years. As the disease progresses, symptoms become worse.
Pulmonary hypertension symptoms include:
Your heart has two upper and two lower chambers. Each time blood passes through your heart, the lower right chamber (right ventricle) pumps blood to your lungs through a large blood vessel (pulmonary artery). In your lungs, the blood releases carbon dioxide and picks up oxygen. The oxygen-rich blood then flows through blood vessels in your lungs (pulmonary arteries, capillaries and veins) to the left side of your heart.
Ordinarily, the blood flows easily through the vessels in your lungs, so blood pressure is usually much lower in your lungs. With pulmonary hypertension, the rise in blood pressure is caused by changes in the cells that line your pulmonary arteries. These changes cause extra tissue to form, eventually narrowing or completely blocking the blood vessels, making the arteries stiff and narrow. This makes it harder for blood to flow, raising the blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries.
Idiopathic pulmonary hypertension
Some people with IPH may have a gene that's a risk factor for developing pulmonary hypertension. But in most people with idiopathic pulmonary hypertension, there is no recognized cause of their pulmonary hypertension.
Secondary pulmonary hypertension
Chambers and the valves of the heart
A normal heart has two upper and two lower chambers. The upper chambers, the right and left atria, receive incoming blood. The lower chambers, the more muscular right and left ventricles, pump blood ...
When the tiny arteries in your lungs become narrow or blocked, or destroyed as in emphysema, there's increased resistance to blood flow through the lungs. This, in turn, causes increased pressure ...
Although anyone can develop either type of pulmonary hypertension, older adults are more likely to have secondary pulmonary hypertension, and young people are more likely to have idiopathic pulmonary hypertension. Idiopathic pulmonary hypertension is also more common in women than it is in men.
Another risk factor for pulmonary hypertension is a family history of the disease. Some genes could be linked to idiopathic pulmonary hypertension. These genes might cause an overgrowth of cells in the small arteries of your lungs, making them narrower.
If one of your family members develops idiopathic pulmonary hypertension and tests positive for a gene mutation that can cause pulmonary hypertension, your doctor or genetic counselor may recommend that you or your family members be tested for the mutation.
Pulmonary hypertension can lead to a number of complications, including:
Preparing for your appointment
If you think you may have pulmonary hypertension, or are worried about your pulmonary hypertension risk because of a family history or other underlying conditions, make an appointment with your family doctor. If pulmonary hypertension is found early, your treatment may be more effective.
While shortness of breath is one of the first symptoms of pulmonary hypertension, this symptom is also common with many other diseases, such as asthma. But if you're constantly short of breath, rather than only occasionally, as is usually the case with asthma, make an appointment to see your doctor.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For pulmonary hypertension, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Tests and diagnosis
Pulmonary hypertension is hard to diagnose early because it's not often detected in a routine physical exam. Even when the disease is more advanced, its signs and symptoms are similar to those of other heart and lung conditions. Your doctor may do one or more tests to rule out other possible reasons for your condition. The first tests you'll have to diagnose pulmonary hypertension include:
Your doctor may order additional tests to check the condition of your lungs and pulmonary arteries, including:
Pulmonary hypertension classifications
Treatments and drugs
It often takes some time to find the best treatment for pulmonary hypertension. The treatments are often complex and require extensive follow-up care. Your doctor may also need to change your treatment if it's no longer effective. When pulmonary hypertension is caused by another condition, your doctor will treat the underlying cause whenever possible.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Although medical treatment can't cure pulmonary hypertension, it can lessen symptoms. Lifestyle changes can also help improve your condition. You should:
Last Updated: 2010-02-09
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