Pulmonary arterial hypertension is a life threatening condition that is very rare but often found in Lupus patients. This condition is a type of high blood pressure that affects the blood pressure in the lungs and the heart.
It’s the type of high blood pressure that occurs in the right side of your heart and in the arteries that supply the blood to your lungs. These arteries are called the pulmonary arteries and pulmonary arterial hypertension occurs when these arteries thicken or become hard and rigid. The thickening of the pulmonary arteries makes the blood flow more difficult.
Your heart has two upper chambers (atria) and two lower chambers (ventricles). Each time blood passes through your heart, the lower right chamber (right ventricle) pumps blood to your lungs through a large blood vessel (pulmonary artery).
In your lungs, the blood releases carbon dioxide and picks up oxygen. The oxygen-rich blood then flows through blood vessels in your lungs (pulmonary arteries, capillaries and veins) to the left side of your heart.
Normally, the blood flows easily through the vessels in your lungs, so blood pressure is usually much lower in your lungs.
With pulmonary hypertension, the rise in blood pressure is caused by changes in the cells that line your pulmonary arteries. These changes can cause the walls of the arteries to become stiff and thick, and extra tissue may form. The blood vessels may also become inflamed and tight.
These changes in the pulmonary arteries can reduce or block blood flow through the blood vessels. This makes it harder for blood to flow, raising the blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries.
As the pressure builds, your heart’s lower right chamber (right ventricle) must work harder to pump blood through your lungs, eventually causing your heart muscle to weaken and fail.
The signs and symptoms of pulmonary hypertension in its early stages might not be noticeable for months or even years. As the disease progresses, symptoms become worse.
Pulmonary hypertension symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea), initially while exercising and eventually while at rest
- Dizziness or fainting spells (syncope)
- Chest pressure or pain
- Swelling (edema) in your ankles, legs and eventually in your abdomen (ascites)
- Racing pulse or heart palpitations
- You’re overweight
- You have a family history of the disease
- You have one of various conditions that can increase your risk of developing pulmonary hypertension
- You use illegal drugs, such as cocaine
- You take certain appetite-suppressant medications
- You have an existing risk of developing pulmonary hypertension, such as a family history of the condition, and you live at a high altitude
Pulmonary hypertension can not be cured but doctors can help you manage your condition. Treatment may help improve your symptoms and slow the progress of pulmonary hypertension.
It often takes some time to find the most appropriate treatment for pulmonary hypertension. The treatments are often complex and require extensive follow-up care.
Although pulmonary arterial hypertension can affect anyone, patients with Lupus are at an increased risk of developing the condition.
This life threatening condition must be taken seriously. If you suspect you or someone you know may be suffering from pulmonary arterial hypertension, speak with your doctor as soon as possible.