While general hypertension is a concept most people are well aware of, pulmonary hypertension is less familiar. Armin Meyer, M.D., a physician with GHS’ Pulmonary Hypertension Program, offers this explanation: “Wherever there’s blood flow, there has to be pressure to make it flow. Hypertension is when that pressure is elevated because of resistance in the body’s arteries.” He continued, “After blood goes through the body, the heart pushes it through the lungs to pick up more oxygen. When those arteries in the lungs are constricted and the pressure builds, it’s called pulmonary hypertension.”
Although pulmonary hypertension was first identified more than 100 years ago, only with the rise of echocardiography -- a non-invasive technology that provides information regarding heart function and lung pressures -- has diagnosis become more feasible. “In the body, we can measure pressure with a blood pressure cuff,” Dr. Meyer said. “But we can’t put a blood pressure cuff around our chest.”
While the condition is not common, the infrequency of diagnosis also stems from the difficulty – even with new technology – of pinpointing pulmonary hypertension as the cause of the patient’s problems. “The symptoms are quite nonspecific,” Dr. Meyer commented. “Shortness of breath, a bit of a cough, a bit of chest pressure, and then when you start having fainting spells and get a lot of swelling around the ankles and feet, that’s when you’re really in the late stages.”
Although it can be related to other conditions such as lupus, scleroderma, congenital heart disease, HIV and liver problems, the development of PAH is not always restricted to patients with those conditions.
Treatments now range from pills to nebulized medicines to IV treatments and may soon include gene therapy and drugs related to cancer therapy.
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