When most people think of hypertension, they associate it with elevated blood pressure in the body. There is however, another type of blood pressure, known as pulmonary hypertension. Pulmonary hypertension is defined as an elevated pressure in the pulmonary artery. There are many causes of pulmonary hypertension, some of which are more common than others.
Before I go into detail about the specific causes of pulmonary hypertension, let’s take a look at what pulmonary hypertension is and what it can do to your body.
The pulmonary artery is a vessel which leads out of the heart and directly to the lungs. Blood then flows through the lungs, gathering oxygen which you have breathed in, and is returned to the other side of the heart via the pulmonary veins. Under normal circumstances, the pulmonary artery is under relatively low pressure. When the pressure in the pulmonary artery becomes elevated, it can lead to significant health problems.
People with pulmonary hypertension will often experience fatigue, chest pain, dizziness, and shortness of breath. Pulmonary hypertension makes it more difficult for the heart to pump blood to the lungs because the pressure in the artery between the heart and lungs becomes elevated. Over time this will cause the heart to become stressed and ultimately fail.
Your doctor can diagnose pulmonary hypertension based on a physical exam and several tests which are commonly available. In some cases it is possible to hear changes in the heart sounds when listening to the lungs with a stethoscope. In addition, an ECG will often show specific changes in people with pulmonary hypertension. Pulmonary function tests will often times show specific changes in people with pulmonary hypertension.
What causes pulmonary hypertension?
There are two sub-types of pulmonary hypertension. The first type is known as primary pulmonary hypertension. This is a rarer disorder which is more common in younger and middle-aged women. It has no known cause. In medicine this is known as idiopathic pulmonary hypertension.
The second broad category of pulmonary hypertension is known as secondary pulmonary hypertension. Secondary pulmonary hypertension has a wide range of causes.
Some medications can cause pulmonary hypertension. These medications include fenfluramine, phentermine, amiodarone, dexfenfluramine, and bleomycin. All of these are prescription medications which are used for very specific purposes.
People with heart and lung disorders are often at high risk for developing pulmonary hypertension. Chronic pulmonary embolisms can cause damage to the heart and lungs leading to pulmonary hypertension. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, interstitial lung disease, and left-sided heart failure are common causes of pulmonary hypertension.
The blood disorder known as polycythemia can cause pulmonary hypertension as well. Collagen vascular diseases such as scleroderma are potential causes of pulmonary hypertension. In some cases infections such as HIV and schistosomiasis can be a causes well. Lastly, sickle cell disease has been known to cause pulmonary hypertension in some people.
Problems with the valves in your heart can lead to pulmonary hypertension. Disorders such as aortic stenosis, mitral stenosis, and mitral regurgitation are known causes of pulmonary hypertension.
Depending on the specific cause of pulmonary hypertension, treatments are available. Of course, treatments must be tailored specifically to the underlying cause of the pulmonary hypertension. Patients with pulmonary hypertension must work closely with their doctor to develop a treatment regimen which will work best for them. If you have further questions about the causes of pulmonary hypertension, speak with your doctor.