Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is a type of high blood pressure that occurs in the right side of your heart and in the arteries that supply blood to your lungs. These arteries are called the pulmonary arteries.
PAH occurs when your pulmonary arteries thicken or grow rigid. This makes blood flow more difficult. Your heart has to work harder to push blood through your arteries, and your arteries aren’t able to carry adequate blood to your lungs.
When this happens, your body can’t get the oxygen it needs. As a result, you grow tired more easily. Other symptoms include:
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- swelling in your arms and legs
- chest pressure or pain
- racing pulse
PAH has no cure. It will continue to worsen over time, even with proper treatment.
According to the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, people with untreated PAH have survival rates of:
- 68 percent at one year
- 48 percent at three years
- 34 percent at five years
If you have PAH, your doctor will use a standard system to rank your “functional status.” This tells your doctor a lot about how severe your PAH has become.
The progression of PAH is divided into four classes. The number assigned to your PAH explains how easily you’re able to perform daily tasks, and how badly the disease has limited your activities.
In this class, PAH doesn’t limit your usual activities. If you do ordinary physical activities, you don’t develop any symptoms of PAH.
In the second class, PAH only mildly affects your physical activities. You may experience no signs of PAH at rest. But physical activity may quickly cause symptoms, including breathing problems and chest pain.
The final two functional status classes indicate that PAH is growing progressively worse.
At this point, you have no discomfort or symptoms when at rest. But it doesn’t take a lot of physical activity to cause symptoms and physical distress.
If you have class IV PAH, you can’t perform physical activities without experiencing severe symptoms. Breathing is labored, even at rest. You may grow tired easily, and small amounts of physical activity can make your symptoms worse.
If you’ve been diagnosed with PAH, it’s important that you remain as physically active as possible while you can. However, strenuous activity can be bad for your body. Finding the right way to remain physically active with PAH can be challenging.
Your doctor may recommend supervised cardiopulmonary rehabilitative sessions to help you find the right balance. Trained healthcare professionals can help you create a program that will provide adequate exercise without pushing you beyond what your body can handle.
A PAH diagnosis means that you’ll face some restrictions. For example, most people with PAH shouldn’t lift more than 50 pounds. Heavy lifting can increase blood pressure, which could complicate and even accelerate symptoms.
While it’s true that advanced stages of PAH can grow worse with physical activity, having PAH doesn’t mean you should avoid activity entirely. Your doctor can help you understand your limitations.
Living with PAH
A combination of lifestyle changes, medicines, and surgeries may alter the progression of the disease. Treatment can add years to your life, but it can’t reverse the symptoms and damage caused by PAH.
Even with proper treatment, PAH will grow worse gradually. Within a few years of developing the condition, everyday tasks, such as walking and showering, will be more difficult and eventually impossible.