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Quick Facts

Pulmonary Hypertension


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Jul 2020| Content last modified Jul 2020
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What is pulmonary hypertension?

Pulmonary refers to the lungs.

Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure.

Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure in your lungs' arteries. Arteries are big blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to parts of your body. Your lungs' arteries are called the pulmonary arteries.

  • In pulmonary hypertension, your heart has to work harder to pump blood through your lungs

  • Pulmonary hypertension is usually caused by certain lung or heart problems and sometimes by certain drugs

  • Pulmonary hypertension makes you feel weak and short of breath

  • To tell if you have pulmonary hypertension, doctors will do a chest x-ray and ultrasound of your heart

  • Doctors treat the cause of your pulmonary hypertension and may give you medicine to open up your pulmonary arteries

What causes pulmonary hypertension?

Pulmonary hypertension is often caused by:

Other causes include sickle cell disease and certain drugs, such as fenfluramine (and other related weight-loss drugs), amphetamines, cocaine, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Sometimes pulmonary hypertension is caused by an inherited problem.

Sometimes doctors don't know what causes a person's pulmonary hypertension.

What are the symptoms of pulmonary hypertension?

The main symptoms of pulmonary hypertension are:

  • Feeling weak and short of breath during mild activity

You may have mild chest discomfort and leg swelling.

How can doctors tell if I have pulmonary hypertension?

Doctors suspect pulmonary hypertension based on your symptoms, especially if you have a lung problem or heart failure. To tell for sure, they’ll do:

If it looks like your pulmonary hypertension is severe, doctors may do:

  • Cardiac catheterization—doctors insert a thin, hollow tube (catheter) through a vein or artery into your heart to measure the blood pressure in your heart and pulmonary arteries

How do doctors treat pulmonary hypertension?

Doctors will treat the cause of your pulmonary hypertension and have you avoid things that can make it worse. For example, they will have you stop smoking and not travel to high-altitude areas, such as up in the mountains.

They may give you medicine such as:

  • Extra oxygen through prongs in your nose or a mask on your face

  • Medicine to open your pulmonary arteries

  • Water pills (diuretics)

  • Anticoagulants (blood thinners) to prevent blood clots in your lungs

If you have severe pulmonary hypertension, doctors may do a lung transplant (a surgery where doctors remove all or part of a lung from someone else’s body and put it into your body).

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