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Pulmonary Hypertension

Pulmonary hypertension refers to an abnormal elevation of the blood pressure in the blood vessels feeding the lungs, known as the pulmonary arteries. This is similar to commonly described hypertension (high blood pressure) which refers to an elevated pressure in the blood vessels supplying most of the body; with pulmonary hypertension, though, only the vessels supplying the lungs are affected.

Pulmonary hypertension can result from a number of known causes as well as many processes that are still not well understood. Many heart diseases can cause a "back-up" of blood into the lungs and result in an elevated pressure. Common disorders that may cause this include congestive heart failure, malfunction of the heart valves or congenital heart diseases (problems with the heart at birth). In addition, nearly all lung disorders can potentially lead to pulmonary hypertension by either damaging the lung itself or by damaging or blocking the blood vessels of the lungs. Common lung disorders that could cause pulmonary hypertension include COPD or emphysema, interstitial lung disease (fibrosis of the lung), pulmonary embolism (blood clots to the lung) and obstructive sleep apnea. Primary pulmonary hypertension (PPH) refers to an elevation of the blood pressure in the lungs without an understood cause. This disorder is rare, but has recently been associated with the use of certain diet drugs.

Pulmonary hypertension can cause symptoms such as difficulty breathing with activity, chest pain, and lightheadedness. Unfortunately, these symptoms are seen in many disorders making pulmonary hypertension a difficult syndrome to diagnose. Elevation of the pulmonary blood pressure can be confirmed by an echocardiogram or heart catheterization.

Once detected, pulmonary hypertension sometimes improves with treatment of the disease causing the elevated blood pressure. Frequently, however, this disease cannot be cured and the pulmonary hypertension worsens or at best, remains stable. PPH can sometimes be managed with blood pressure pills or a continuous intravenous medication, but occasionally, patients with severe disease require lung transplantation.

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