Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension: Drugs and Medications

Drugs and Medications for Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension

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  • Medications for Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension

    Medications for Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension

    A pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) diagnosis is often a scary one. Soon after your high blood pressure is discovered, you and your doctor will need to create a disease management plan. 

    Unfortunately, no treatment can stop or reverse this aggressive disease. Instead, treatment is designed to slow the condition’s momentum and decrease the symptoms you experience.

    Click through this slideshow to learn more about PAH and what types of medications are used to treat it.

  • What Is PAH?

    What Is PAH?

    PAH is a type of high blood pressure. It affects the pulmonary arteries and the right side of the heart.

    The pulmonary arteries carry blood from the heart to the lungs where fresh oxygen is pumped into the blood. Once PAH begins to progress, maintaining adequate oxygen and blood flow to the body becomes difficult. Patients may experience shortness of breath, dizziness and fainting, even chest pains.

    Over time, PAH will grow worse and eventually become fatal.

  • Treatment for PAH

    Treatment for PAH

    If you’re diagnosed with PAH, your doctor will work with you to develop a plan for medical therapy. A PAH diagnosis will require extensive medical care, especially as the condition worsens.

    You may need to see a cardiologist or pulmonologist. Both types of doctors are trained to diagnose and treat patients with PAH. If you’re receiving treatment for PAH from a general practitioner or family doctor, they may suggest that you see a specialist once the disease has progressed.

  • Vasodilators


    Blood vessel dilators, or vasodilators, are often prescribed to people with PAH. These medicines work to open blocked and narrowed blood vessels in the lungs.

    One common vasodilator is epoprostenol, or Flolan. This medicine is administered through an IV attached to a pump. The pump is often worn on a belt so that the medicine can be administered as needed. Another common vasodilator, iloprost (Ventavis) is inhaled through a nebulizer.

    Side effects from the most commonly prescribed vasodilators include jaw pain, leg cramps, nausea, diarrhea, and headache.

  • Anticoagulants


    Blood-thinning medicines like warfarin (Coumadin) prevent blood clots from forming and blocking the small pulmonary arteries. Unfortunately, anticoagulant medication increases the risk for bleeding problems if you’re injured or cut.

    People taking blood thinners need regular medical supervision from a doctor. Your doctor will conduct blood tests routinely in order to monitor the medicine’s effects on your body. You may also need to adjust your diet and other medications to prevent dangerous interactions.

  • Endothelin Receptor Antagonists

    Endothelin Receptor Antagonists

    Endothelin is a natural substance found in your blood. If you have too much of it, it can slowly build up on vessel walls. As endothelin builds, your blood vessels become narrower. A type of medicine called endothelin receptor antagonists work to reverse the effect of endothelin.

    The most common side effect of these medicines is liver damage. If you take endothelin receptor antagonists, your doctor will monitor your liver for signs of damage regularly.

  • Other Medicines Used to Treat PAH

    Other Medicines Used to Treat PAH

    Your doctor may prescribe several other medications to treat your PAH. These include:

    • sildenafil and tadalafil: Like vasodilators, these two medicines work to open narrowed blood vessels so blood can flow through the lungs more easily.
    • channel blockers: High-dose calcium channel blockers, including amlodipine and nifedipine, work to relax blood vessel walls. This encourages more blood flow.
    • diuretics: These medicines remove excess fluid from your body, which reduces the amount of work your heart needs to do to move blood into your lungs and around your body.
  • Treating Co-Existing Illnesses

    Treating Co-Existing Illnesses

    PAH is often caused by another illness or disease, such as heart disease or HIV. Properly treating any coexisting disease is very important if you’ve been diagnosed with PAH. However, you and your doctor must be extra cautious when treating certain conditions along with PAH.

    A few medications, including anesthetics and sedatives, can be dangerous for people with PAH. These medicines may affect your pulmonary arteries and increase your risk for dangerous side effects.

  • Best Steps

    Best Steps

    The best treatment for you depends on your personal health history, how advanced your PAH is, and what treatments you’re currently undergoing for other conditions or diseases. Treating the condition that caused your PAH won’t cure it, but it may slow the progression and ease some of your PAH symptoms.

    Work with your doctor to identify a treatment plan that’s right for you. As side effects occur or the disease progresses, alter your plan to best suit your symptoms.