Cor pulmonale is a condition that happens when a respiratory disorder results in high blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries (pulmonary hypertension). The name of the condition is in Latin and means “pulmonary heart.”

It’s also known as right-sided heart failure because it occurs within the right ventricle of your heart. Cor pulmonale causes the right ventricle to enlarge and pump blood less effectively than it should. The ventricle is then pushed to its limit and ultimately fails.

It’s possible to prevent this condition by controlling the high pressure of the blood going to the lungs. But untreated pulmonary hypertension can eventually lead to cor pulmonale along with other related, life-threatening complications.

The symptoms of cor pulmonale may not be noticeable at first because they’re similar to the feelings you get after a hard workout. They include:

  • shortness of breath
  • tiredness
  • an increased heart rate
  • lightheadedness

Over time, these symptoms will worsen and flare up even during periods of rest.

Tell your doctor immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • chest pain
  • leg or feet swelling
  • fainting
  • excessive coughing
  • wheezing
  • excessive fatigue

In order to treat cor pulmonale, your doctor will need to treat the underlying cause.

Prescription medications can help decrease blood pressure and help encourage oxygen flow back into the lungs. Diuretics may also be used to get rid of fluid retention and keep your blood sodium levels down. You may also take blood thinners to prevent blood clots.

Severe or advanced cases of cor pulmonale require more aggressive treatments like a heart or lung transplant. In other cases, you may need to have oxygen therapy.

The lungs depend on the heart to transport blood from the body to the lungs. Pulmonary hypertension occurs as a result of increased pressure in your lungs’ arteries.

This increased pressure can then cause resistance in your heart’s right ventricle. It’s a result of having to overcome the high pressure in the lungs in order to force blood into them.

This increased pressure leads to cor pulmonale, and the result is ineffective transportation of blood to the lungs. This, in turn, will lead to decreased oxygen transport to the rest of the body.

Conditions or events that can cause this include:

The most common cause of acute cor pulmonale is typically caused by a pulmonary embolism, which is a blood clot in the lungs. Chronic cor pulmonary most commonly results from COPD.

Cor pulmonale is diagnosed with a physical exam and medical testing. Abnormal heart rhythms, fluid retention, and protruding neck veins during a physical exam can indicate the presence of increased pressure and the possibility of cor pulmonale.

Blood tests to detect brain natriuretic peptides, which are amino acids secreted from the heart when it is stressed, may also be ordered.

A doctor may also insert a right heart catheter to determine if there’s any dysfunction in the right ventricle of your heart. This procedure is known as right heart catheterization or Swan-Ganz catheterization.

Beyond the diagnosis of cor pulmonary itself, the condition’s underlying cause needs to be discovered to provide the appropriate treatment.

Testing may include:

  • CT scans, which take images of parts of the body
  • An echocardiogram, which is like an ultrasound of your heart and helps your specialist to visualize the structures of your heart and identify any structural differences
  • chest X-rays, which take images of various parts of your chest
  • a lung scan, which is used to detect blood clots
  • lung function tests, which determine how well your lungs work
  • right heart catheterization

In rare cases, your doctor may also order a lung biopsy to see if any underlying tissue is damaged.

If not treated promptly, cor pulmonale can lead to the following complications:

  • An enlarged pulmonary artery
  • thickening of the walls of the right ventricle of the heart
  • severe shortness of breath
  • severe excessive fluid in your body
  • shock
  • death

The outlook for people with cor pulmonale ultimately depends on the management of pulmonary hypertension that results from the underlying cause.

Cor pulmonale can also cause difficulty breathing, and it is life-threatening when not treated.

Talk with your doctor if you notice any changes in how you feel, especially if you’re currently being treated for pulmonary hypertension. Your doctor may need to adjust your treatment plan to help prevent cor pulmonale.

You can prevent cor pulmonale by taking care of your heart and lungs. Maintain a moderate weight, get regular exercise (when possible), and eat a well-balanced diet to avoid hypertension and heart disease.

Preventing the onset of lung disease may help prevent this condition. Avoiding smoking cigarettes can help reduce your risk of developing such an illness, which could damage your lungs and lead to cor pulmonale.