Why Is Pulmonary Hypertension Considered a Zebra?

Patrícia Silva, PhD avatar

by Patrícia Silva, PhD |

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According to the Pulmonary Hypertension Association of Canada, pulmonary hypertension (PH) is a serious, progressive and potentially fatal lung disease. PH causes high blood pressure in the lungs due to inflammation or scarring in the pulmonary arteries. Untreated, PH can lead to weakness in the right side of the heart, a type of heart failure.

MORE: Symptoms of pulmonary hypertension.

Pulmonary hypertension is a medical zebra
PH is a complex disease, which unfortunately, is often overlooked by medical professionals. As many of the PH symptoms occur in other less serious conditions, the possibility of having PH is sometimes not considered, or symptoms are attributed to other illnesses. This situation is what experts describe as a medical zebra.

Misdiagnoses for PH can vary from asthma to poisoning, or even anxiety. Particularly when a young person presents symptoms such as shortness of breath, the first thought is usually asthma, not pulmonary hypertension.

The reality is that PH should be considered if a patient presents any of the following symptoms: shortness of breath; fatigue; exercise intolerance; edema of ankles, feet or legs; chest pain;  cyanosis (blue or purple discoloration of the skin); fainting; or clinical signs of right-sided heart failure. Although the presence of one or more of these symptoms could present a much simpler condition (such as asthma, chronic fatigue, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, anxiety, or even obesity), due to the progressive nature of the disease, early diagnosis is essential to control its progression and provide the best quality of life possible for the patient.

MORE: Common misconceptions about pulmonary hypertension.

Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Pulmonary Hypertension.