Pulmonary Hypertension – Symptoms, Treatment, Causes, Prognosis, Life Expectancy

By on September 1, 2012 with No Comments

What is Pulmonary Hypertension ?

When tiny arteries that are found in your lungs also called pulmonary arteries, begin to narrow and constrict resulting to blockage, this can causes a condition known as pulmonary hypertension. The narrowing and blockage or destruction may also entail small blood vessels called the capillaries. Therefore, pulmonary hypertension is a type of elevated or high blood pressure that affects arteries in the lungs and also at the right side of the heart.

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When the blood vessels are constricted, blocked or narrowed, it means that it becomes hard for them to initiate smooth blood flow through the lungs. This condition raises pressure within the arteries of the lungs. Because of the pressure, which builds up on the lung’s arteries, this compels the lower chamber of the heart also known as right ventricle to begin to work hard to pump blood to your lungs.

What happens is that the heart muscles are weakened and could eventually fail. Pulmonary hypertension can progress to severe stages and this means that it becomes fatal if not checked. Apparently, this type of hypertension is not curable but there are treatments that are given to minimize the symptoms and also improve the quality of life of the patient.

Causes of pulmonary hypertension

Blood is pumped to the lungs from the lower right chamber or right ventricle through a vessel called pulmonary artery. When blood is pumped to the lungs, the there is exchanges of gases like oxygen and carbon dioxide. The blood picks oxygen and releases carbon dioxide. The oxygen-rich blood flow from the lungs to the left side of the heart through pulmonary arteries, capillaries and veins.

In normal circumstances, blood flows easily to the lungs and from the lungs to the left heart chamber. However, during pulmonary hypertension, there is blood pressure, which is created by the arterial wall changes. The changes in the arterial walls cause then to narrow and at times block and this means that blood flow is impaired.

As the flow of blood is impaired, it raises the blood pressure of the pulmonary arteries. There are times when the cause of high blood pressure in lungs it not identified and this is known as idiopathic pulmonary hypertension- IPH.

On the other hand, if the hypertension is caused by other medical problems, then this condition is referred to as secondary pulmonary hypertension. There are many causes of secondary pulmonary hypertension and these ranges from blood clots in lungs, through congenital heart defects, sickle cell anemia to chronic liver disease or cirrhosis.

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What are the symptoms of pulmonary hypertension?

Pulmonary hypertension may not show any signs especially when it is in its early stages. However, as the disease progresses, its symptoms can worsen and become noticeable. Some of the symptoms include dyspnea or shortness of breath. In the early stages, a person will experience shortness of breath when exercising but as the disease progresses; a patient can experience breath shortness while at rest.

In addition, a person suffering from pulmonary hypertension experiences fatigue. This is because there is insufficient supply of oxygen and nutrients in tissues. Dizziness and fainting episodes may be witnessed. Moreover, a person experiences chest pain and racing heart pulse or heart palpitations. Swelling or edema may be witnessed on the ankles, legs and sooner or later in the abdomen. The color of the lips and skin may begin turning bluish a condition known as cyanosis. 

Risk factors and complications of Pulmonary Hypertension

Although anyone can develop pulmonary hypertension, young people are more likely to develop idiopathic pulmonary hypertension while older adults are more likely to develop secondary pulmonary hypertension.

Family history is another factor which is linked to pulmonary hypertension. There are complications which may arise as a result of pulmonary hypertension and these are such as failure of the heart on its right side. Blood clots may also occur.

Irregular heartbeats or arrhythmia may also occur on the upper and lower chambers of the heart. In addition, the condition could lead to bleeding in the lungs and coughing blood a condition known as hemoptysis, which is potentially fatal.

Pulmonary Hypertension – Medications and Treatment

The treatment of pulmonary hypertension is diverse and takes some time to identify the best medication. A patient who is receiving treatment of this disease requires close and extensive follow up and care by the physicians. Blood vessel dilators or vasodilators are used to open up narrowed blood vessels. A good example is Flolan.

Anticoagulants are also administered to help prevent the formation of blood clots, which can be fatal. Endothelin receptor antagonists are used to reverse the effects of endothelium, which is a substance on the vessel walls that causes them to narrow down. If medication does not yield good results in treating the condition, surgery may be opted.

In young people who suffer idiopathic pulmonary hypertension, lung or heart transplant may be applied. Atrial septostomy, which is an open heart surgery, may be done to create an opening between the left and right chambers of the heart. This helps in relieving pressure that is created on the right side of the heart.

Life Expectancy

Patients with severe pulmonary hypertension have reduced life expectancy. However, with excellent medical therapy and changes in lifestyle, patients can survive up to even 10 years.

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