Pulmonary hypertension is a chronic and progressive condition associated with abnormally high pressure in the blood vessels supplying the lungs from the heart. This restricts blood flow to the lungs, limiting effective oxygen transport throughout the body.
As it is a progressive condition, the initial symptoms of pulmonary hypertension may be mild enough not to be noticed or be attributed to something else. However, if left untreated, the symptoms can become steadily worse and lead to serious, sometimes fatal, complications.
- Shortness of breath (known as dyspnea)
- Fatigue, or tiredness
- Dizziness or fainting (syncope)
- Chest pain (angina)
- Swelling of the ankles, legs, abdomen, and face
- Blue-tinted lips or skin (cyanosis), due to abnormally low levels of oxygen
- Heart palpitations (racing heartbeat)
- Heart arrhythmia (when the heart skips a beat)
- Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
- Low blood pressure in the rest of the body (hypotension)
Some patients may experience Raynaud’s disease associated with pulmonary hypertension. This results in painfully cold or numb fingers and toes, as the arteries supplying the extremities narrow, leading to reduced blow flow.
The high blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries puts the heart under increased strain to continue pumping blood through the lungs. The strain can cause the heart to weaken, and signs of this include the heart appearing enlarged (or hypertrophied) in imaging tests such as chest X-rays. If untreated, severe pulmonary hypertension can lead to heart failure later in life.
As pulmonary hypertension impairs oxygen transport, this can make exercise increasingly difficult for patients. At later stages of the disease, patients may find themselves short of breath even while at rest. The severity or stage of the disease can be determined by the patient’s exercise ability.
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