Most people are aware of high blood pressure, or hypertension, even if they are not exactly sure what it is. To explain, blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of arteries as the heart pumps. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, you have high blood pressure.
On the other hand, most people are not familiar with something known as pulmonary hypertension (PH), which is high blood pressure in the vessels in the lungs. If left untreated, PH leads to right heart failure and is most often fatal. Pulmonary Hypertension Awareness Month (November) is aimed to make people aware of this disease.
“PH is relatively rare as it impacts only six in one-million people,” says Dr. Stacy A. Mandras, an Ochsner Heart Failure-Transplant cardiologist with the Multi-Organ Transplant Institute. As Dr. Mandras explains, “For those who do have PH, it’s a disease that can be difficult to diagnose, with an average of 2.5 years between the time symptoms start and the time that the diagnosis is made. Once it is discovered, medication is the first line of defense, but if that doesn’t work, the only option is to undergo a lung transplant if the patient is healthy enough.”
The reason this awareness month is so important is that there are people with other existing medical conditions that need to be conscious of PH. Research shows that somewhere between 20-40 percent of sickle cell patients and one out of every 200 HIV patients develop at least mild PH. There are also other diseases associated with PH.
“Those who have connective-tissue disease such as scleroderma or lupus need to educate themselves on PH as it does appear in patients with those conditions,” Dr. Mandras explains and adds, “we are not out to scare people, but to bring awareness.”
Because PH is not that common, it’s not something that is often discussed during a doctor’s visit. In most cases, patients exhibit few symptoms at first and when they do have symptoms, those can mimic many other ailments. Symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, chest pain or swelling. Dr. Mandras notes, “A blood test can’t diagnose PH, so those at risk need to be aware of PH and talk to their doctor immediately if they have unexplained symptoms that can’t be connected to another disease or ailment.”