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Pulmonary hypertension often goes undiagnosed until it's too late

Posted at 7:59 AM, Oct 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-07 09:43:27-04

Pulmonary hypertension easily is mistaken for other respiratory diseases, so an early diagnosis can be life-saving.

There are around 200,000 hospitalizations each year involving this disease, and the condition also is responsible for around 15,000 fatalities annually.

Pulmonary hypertension is a serious disease that can become progressively worse, even fatal, if not properly treated.

“Pulmonary hypertension is a condition that is caused due to elevated blood pressure in the lungs," said Corpus Christi Heart Clinic interventional cardiologist Dr. Christel Cuevas. "It’s estimated about 200,000 cases annually occur in the United States.”

Doctors want to raise awareness among those at-risk of developing pulmonary hypertension and who might not be aware of the symptoms or the options for treating the disease.

“Patients at risk of developing pulmonary hypertension can be those who have established lung disease or heart disease," said Cuevas. "Patients can present with a number of symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, lightheadedness, and sometimes passing out spells.”

Pulmonary hypertension is often under-diagnosed, and getting people correctly diagnosed is one of the reasons the Corpus Christi Heart Clinic has started the first pulmonary hypertension clinic in Corpus Christi. This also means people with this condition don’t have to travel to San Antonio, Houston, or Austin for treatments.

“This is hugely valuable for our community," said Corpus Christi Heart Clinic interventional cardiologist Dr. Thomas Alexander. "Patients who have this diagnosis can’t travel long distances, plus they don’t have to travel for just medication changes."

After you're diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, doctors at the Corpus Christi Heart Clinic will work with you to develop an appropriate treatment plan for your condition.

“So for someone who has pulmonary hypertension, they will get the echocardiogram here, the six-minute walk test here, will see a pulmonologist here," Alexander said. "If needed, a cardiologist will be able to consult immediately."

For more information: (361) 883-3962

Pulmonary hypertension is increased blood pressure in the blood vessels that collects oxygen from the lungs. It is a serious, degenerative condition, and it can lead to heart failure and death.

General high-blood pressure can often be prevented through lifestyle changes, but pulmonary hypertension often has genetic factors.

Pulmonary hypertension is a type of high-blood pressure that affects the arteries in your lungs and the right side of your heart.

In one form of pulmonary hypertension, tiny arteries in your lungs, called pulmonary arterioles, and capillaries become narrowed, blocked or destroyed.

This makes it harder for blood to flow through your lungs, and raises pressure within your lungs' arteries.

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 fail.

Some forms of pulmonary hypertension are serious conditions that become progressively worse and are sometimes fatal. Although some forms of pulmonary hypertension aren't curable, treatment can help lessen symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Symptoms: The signs and symptoms of pulmonary hypertension in its early stages might not be noticeable for months or even years. As the disease progresses, symptoms become worse.

Pulmonary hypertension symptoms include:
• Shortness of breath (dyspnea), initially while exercising and eventually while at rest

• Fatigue

• Dizziness or fainting spells (syncope)

• Chest pressure or pain

• Swelling (edema) in your ankles, legs and eventually in your abdomen (ascites)

• Bluish color to your lips and skin (cyanosis)

• Racing pulse or heart palpitations

Risk Factors:
Your risk of developing pulmonary hypertension may be greater if:

• You're a young adult, as idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension is more common in younger adults

• You're overweight

• You have a family history of the disease

• You have one of various conditions that can increase your risk of developing pulmonary hypertension

• You use illegal drugs, such as cocaine

• You take certain appetite-suppressant medications

• You have an existing risk of developing pulmonary hypertension, such as a family history of the condition, and you live at a high altitude

The thickening of the blood vessel walls in the lung causes pulmonary hypertension.

This narrows the space within the vessel that blood can travel through, increasing the pressure.

A complex set of factor leads to the thickening of blood vessels in the lungs during pulmonary hypertension.

Known causes include:

• problems with connective tissue, such as sclerosis

• congenital heart defects, which means the defect was present at birth

• inherited genetic causes, such as a BMPR2 gene mutation

• use of drugs or other toxins

• HIV infection

• pulmonary veno-occlusive disease, sometimes associated with cancer or cancer treatment

• left heart disease, such as heart valve disease

• lung disease, for example, COPD and chronic high-altitude exposure

• chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension, which occurs after a blood clot has reached the lung

A range of conditions are linked to pulmonary hypertension, and the disorder can occur alongside different types of heart or lung disease. As a result, the cause of the condition can often be unknown or difficult to confirm.

Treatment: Pulmonary hypertension can't be cured, but doctors can help you manage your condition. Treatment may help improve your symptoms and slow the progress of pulmonary hypertension.