Pulmonary hypertension is abnormally high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs, caused when the small arteries in the lungs become narrowed and cannot carry as much blood. As a result, the right side of the heart must work harder than normal to force blood through the vessels. Due to this increased workload, the right side of the heart becomes larger, and death by right-sided heart failure among those with pulmonary hypertension is common.1
Each year, 10 to 15 million people are diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, 200,000 are hospitalized, and more than 15,000 die of the disease.2 Pulmonary hypertension, which affects women twice as frequently as men, generally affects young, otherwise healthy individuals, with the average age of diagnosis at 36 years of age. Although all individuals are susceptible to pulmonary hypertension, about 10 to 20 percent of people with pulmonary hypertension have a genetic mutation predisposing them to the disease.3 For all individuals, the three-year survival rate after diagnosis is only about 50 percent.
PH is divided into five groups based on its causes and treatment options. In all groups, the average pressure in the pulmonary arteries is 25 mmHg or higher. The pressure in normal pulmonary arteries is 8–20 mmHg at rest. The five groups are arterial, venous, hypoxic, thromboembolic or miscellaneous. Group 1 is called Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension (PAH) and groups 2 through 5 are called PH. However, together all groups are called PH. Every PH patient is different and new research with the potential to improve the outlook for this disease is being conducted all the time. A patient’s journey with PH depends on many factors, including the severity of the disease and how the patient responds to treatment. PH-specific therapies are available that can prolong and improve quality of life, and once in the care of a PH specialist and on treatment, many PH patients live for many years.
Because the symptoms of pulmonary hypertension are common with other respiratory ailments, pulmonary hypertension can be difficult to recognize and diagnose.5 However, delayed diagnosis can lead to significantly worse health outcomes. As such, patients experiencing the symptoms of pulmonary hypertension, including shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, and dizziness, should be encouraged to consult with a primary care provider.