Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension: Understanding Treatment Options

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  • What Is Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension?

    What Is Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension?

    Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is an uncommon, but serious medical condition. In PAH, the arteries that carry blood to your lungs become narrowed, making blood flow more difficult.

    Blood travels to your lungs to pick up the oxygen it supplies to your body. Pressure in those arteries increases greatly to help move the blood along. High blood pressure (hypertension) in the pulmonary arteries causes the right side of your heart to work harder, and eventually weaken.

    Click through the slideshow to get an overview on your treatment options.

  • Common Causes

    Common Causes

    PAH often occurs without an obvious cause. Doctors call this type of PAH “idiopathic pulmonary hypertension.” PAH may also be inherited, so if you have a family history of PAH, your odds of developing the condition are higher.

    PAH can result from health problems such as a blood clot in the lungs, congenital heart defects, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

  • Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore

    Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore

    Signs of PAH usually don’t appear until the disease reaches an advanced stage. One early sign is shortness of breath and fatigue after minor physical exertion. You may have moments of dizziness or even fainting spells because PAH can diminish blood flow to your brain.

    In PAH, your heart strains to properly circulate blood throughout your body. This can cause fluid to build up. If you have PAH, you may see swelling in your ankles.

    See your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms.

  • Medicating Pulmonary Hypertension

    Medicating Pulmonary Hypertension

    There is no cure for PAH, so treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and slowing its progression. Your doctor may prescribe medications that help relax blood vessels or reduce excess cell growth within your arteries.  

    Some commonly prescribed drugs to treat PAH include sildenafil, prostanoids, and calcium channel blockers. One drug, digoxin, helps the heart beat more strongly. You may also be prescribed a diuretic, which helps lower blood pressure by reducing fluid levels in your body.

  • Atrial Septostomy

    Atrial Septostomy

    Atrial septostomy is a procedure designed to improve blood flow in the heart. During the procedure, a doctor guides a catheter through an artery to the heart’s upper chambers, called the atria. The catheter enters through the septum, the thin wall that separates the right atrium and left atrium.

    A tiny balloon at the catheter’s tip inflates after insertion to allow more blood flow between the heart’s two chambers. This eases the growing pressure in the right atrium, which occurs in people with PAH.

  • Lung Transplant

    Lung Transplant

    A lung transplant may be necessary in the most serious cases of PAH. This option is primarily for people whose PAH was caused by a serious lung disease. Lung transplant procedures are for people who may only have a short time to live, and who didn’t find relief with medications or other procedures. 

    Patients who also have severe heart disease or heart failure caused by PAH may be candidates for a heart-lung transplant.

  • Pulmonary Thromboendarterectomy

    Pulmonary Thromboendarterectomy

    Sometimes a small blood clot in the lungs dissolves on its own. But, if you have a blood clot in the pulmonary artery, you may need to have it surgically removed. A pulmonary thromboendarterectomy is necessary when a blood clot is stuck to the inside of the pulmonary artery, blocking blood flow.

    This procedure may be able to return pulmonary artery blood pressure to a healthy range. It may also help undo some damage that PAH causes the heart’s right side.

  • Listen to Your Doctor

    Listen to Your Doctor

    Researchers continue to find new ways to prevent and treat PAH, but you can do your part to reduce the complications from this serious disease.

    Along with standard PAH treatments, lifestyle changes are important. Take your medications to control blood pressure and cholesterol, and eat a healthier diet. Exercise regularly, quit smoking, and lose weight if necessary.

    See your doctor to better address changes in your condition.

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