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Am I at Risk of Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension?

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  • PAH – An Overview

    PAH – An Overview

    Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) occurs when the arteries in the lungs narrow, and the right side of the heart has to work harder to pump blood to the lungs. This leads to high blood pressure in those arteries, which are called the pulmonary arteries. Over time, as the heart must continue to work harder, the muscle weakens and heart failure occurs. Though PAH is not curable, it is treatable with medications and lifestyle changes.

  • Types of PAH

    Types of PAH

    There are two types of pulmonary arterial hypertension: idiopathic PAH and secondary PAH. Both types are very rare. With idiopathic PAH, there is no known cause for the condition. It seems to have developed on its own, though sometimes there is inherited genetically component. In secondary PAH, the condition has developed due to some other, underlying condition. 

  • Symptoms of PAH

    Symptoms of PAH

    Many of the signs and symptoms of PAH are similar to those of other heart and lung conditions. These symptoms may include:

    • shortness of breath
    • dizziness/fainting
    • racing pulse or heart palpitations
    • fatigue
    • weakness
    • chest pain
    • cough
    • abdominal swelling, or swelling of the arms, legs, and/or ankles
    • blue or chalky skin, especially at the fingertips
  • Am I at Risk?

    Am I at Risk?

    Anyone can develop PAH. There are a number of risk factors that can make someone more susceptible to this and other heart and lung conditions:

    • age
    • gender
    • family history
    • other health conditions
    • drug use
    • high altitude
  • Risk Factors – Age and Gender

    Risk Factors – Age and Gender

    Though PAH can strike at any age, it is almost exclusively found in adults. The most common window is between 20 and 60 years of age. As for gender, idiopathic PAH is twice as common in women as in men. Younger women of childbearing age are especially likely to develop the condition.

  • Risk Factor – Family History

    Risk Factor – Family History

    As mentioned previously, idiopathic PAH develops without any visible cause. In some cases, family history seems to play a role, which would indicate a genetic link. In fact, a genetic marker has been found for PAH. However, not everyone with idiopathic PAH has this marker, or any family history of the condition.

  • Risk Factor – Other Health Conditions

    Risk Factor – Other Health Conditions

    Other health conditions that are risk factors for PAH include:

    • obesity and sleep apnea, which, in combination, deprive the body of oxygen, forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood to the lungs for oxygenation
    • HIV infection
    • heart/lung conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and diseases of the left side of the heart
    • history of blood clots in the pulmonary arteries
    • liver disease
    • lupus and other diseases of the connective tissues
    • pregnancy, which seems to slightly raise the risk of pulmonary arterial hypertension. What’s more dangerous is that when women with PAH become pregnant, they are significantly more likely to die from the condition.
  • Risk Factor – Drug Use

    Risk Factor – Drug Use

    Recreational drugs like methamphetamines and cocaine, as well as diet drugs like fen-phen, have been shown to cause PAH. Sometimes the condition doesn’t develop until many years after drug use has ended.

  • Risk Factor – High Altitude

    Risk Factor – High Altitude

    Those who live at high altitude for extended periods are more likely to develop PAH. Research has shown that this condition can be reversed if the person moves back near sea level. Those who already have PAH and travel to high altitudes may find that their symptoms are worsened during their trip.

  • What Can You Do?

    What Can You Do?

    Many of these risk factors are difficult to control, if not impossible. What you can definitely control is how you react to symptoms of PAH or other heart and lung conditions. Visit your doctor at the first signs of trouble. There are several diagnostic tests that can pinpoint the cause of your symptoms, and a number of treatment options exist. Treatment of PAH generally involves managing symptoms of the condition, using medications and lifestyle changes.