Pulmonary hypertension (PH), is a complex and often misunderstood disease. The term PH means high blood pressure in the lungs. In “regular” hypertension (also known as high blood pressure or “systemic hypertension) the pressure in the arteries throughout the body is higher than it should be. This can be measured with a blood pressure cuff. In PH, the blood vessels specifically in the lungs are affected. They can become stiff, damaged or narrow, and the right side of the heart must work harder to pump blood through.
Each form of PH is different, so it is important for newly-diagnosed patients to find a PH specialist who can accurately find what is causing their PH and develop a treatment plan that is right for that specific type of PH as soon as possible. Every person with PH is different, and new research is being conducted every day with the potential to improve the outlook for people living with this disease. Once in the care of a PH-treating health care team and on appropriate therapy, people with PH can live many years.
The heart and lungs work together to carry oxygen throughout the body. The heart is a muscle made up of two halves that pumps the blood. As deoxygenated blood returns from the rest of the body, it first goes into the right side of the heart, which pumps it into the lungs. The lungs take carbon dioxide from the blood — which the body releases as you exhale — and replace it with oxygen that you have inhaled.
After the blood picks up the oxygen, it is considered “oxygenated” again and is ready to go to other areas of the body. The blood then travels from the lungs into the left side of the heart. The left side of the heart then pumps the blood to the rest of the body. This process starts over again with each heart beat.
The right side of the heart is smaller and weaker than the left side because it only pumps blood through the lungs — which is normally a low-pressure system. The left side of the heart is more muscular as it has to pump blood throughout the rest of the body, against gravity and up to your head and all the way to your toes and back again.
The most common symptoms of PH can also be caused by other more common medical problems, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Therefore, diagnosing PH is difficult and requires a specialist. Physical examination signs can include visible or enlarged veins on the side of the neck, irregular heart sounds or swelling in the abdomen or legs and feet.
Symptoms are common across all types of PH, however the numbers below are reported for pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH)