What is Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension?
Pulmonary arterial hypertension is a rare disorder characterized by an abnormal increase of blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries, which supply blood to the lungs. This increased blood pressure may result in damage to the heart.
Causes of Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension
Pulmonary arterial hypertension is often caused by the narrowing or blockage of the pulmonary arteries. Decreased blood flow results in increased pressure within the artery wall. Other factors include:
- Congenital heart defects
- Inherited disorder
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Sleep apnea
- HIV infection
- Drug abuse
- Autoimmune disorder
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Liver cirrhosis
Symptoms of Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension
Some of the common symptoms of pulmonary arterial hypertension include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath on exertion
- Swelling in the legs and arms
- Irregular heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing while at rest
Diagnosis of Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension
Your doctor will review your medical history and symptoms and conduct a physical examination. The following diagnostic tests may be ordered:
- Chest x-rays: These are performed to assess an enlarged heart or any scarring in the lungs.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG): This test records the electrical activity of the heart.
- Echocardiogram: This test helps to view the heart’s size, structure, and motion using sound waves.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): This study uses a large magnetic field and radio waves to produce images that help in detecting damage to the soft tissues and to determine the blood flow between the lung arteries and ventricles.
- Blood tests: Blood tests are performed to detect substances in the blood that can indicate infection or disease.
- CT Scan: This scan uses multiple X-rays to produce detailed cross-sectional images of the chest.
- Ventilation-perfusion scan: This is a nuclear test that helps to determine any blood clots in the lungs.
- Lung function test: A group of tests that helps to assess whether your lungs are functioning properly.
- Polysomnogram: This determines the oxygen level and activity of the brain while you are asleep.
- Exercise tolerance test: This test helps to determine the exercise capacity and level of oxygen in your body.
Treatment for Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension
There is no special treatment for pulmonary arterial hypertension. Most of the treatment focuses on the following underlying causes:
- Anticoagulants: These help in dissolving blood clots.
- Diuretics: These work to remove extra fluid present in the tissue to reduce swelling.
- Inotropic agents: These help to improve the pumping capacity of the heart.
- Oxygen therapy: This involves supplementing with oxygen for breathing.
- Digoxin: This medication helps control the heart rate.
- Vasodilators: These are agents that help in the relaxing and opening of narrowed blood vessels.
- Choose foods that are rich in potassium and magnesium
- Reduce calorie intake
- Stay hydrated
- Reduce consumption of sodium
- Maintain your bodyweight
- Stop smoking
- Reduce or eliminate alcohol intake
- Perform regular exercises
- Perform regular health check-ups
If conservative methods fail to improve the symptoms, the following surgeries may be recommended:
- Lung transplantation: This method involves the partial or complete replacement of a damaged lung with a healthy one.
- Atrial septostomy: A small hole is made in the wall separating the left and right atria of the heart with the assistance of a catheter to help relieve the pressure on the right side of the heart, thus increasing the heart’s pumping capacity.