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Pulmonary hypertension

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Pulmonary hypertension is a serious medical condition that can lead to heart failure.
  • It’s caused by changes to the arteries in your lungs, which forces your heart to work harder.
  • There is currently no cure for pulmonary hypertension.

What is pulmonary hypertension?

Pulmonary hypertension is when the blood pressure in your pulmonary arteries is too high. Your pulmonary arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to your lungs.

Pulmonary hypertension is a serious medical condition. It can lead to heart failure and requires specialist treatment.

Pulmonary hypertension is not the same as common hypertension (high blood pressure).

What are the symptoms of pulmonary hypertension?

Pulmonary hypertension can happen slowly. The early warning signs might not be noticeable. Your symptoms may get worse as your disease progresses. This is because your heart can’t keep up the flow of blood through the lungs.

The most common symptoms are:

  • breathlessness – at first when you exercise, and eventually when you’re resting
  • fatigue (tiredness)
  • dizziness

Other signs are:

  • fainting spells
  • heart palpitations or a racing pulse
  • swelling in your ankles, legs and abdomen (tummy)
  • a bluish colour to your lips and skin
  • rapid weight gain due to a build-up of fluid

What causes pulmonary hypertension?

Pulmonary hypertension is due to changes to the blood vessels in your lungs. This may be caused by:

  • damage
  • narrowing
  • blockage
  • other changes

These changes increase the pressure needed to keep the same amount of blood flowing to your lungs. This forces your heart to work harder. Left untreated, pulmonary hypertension can damage your heart.

Pulmonary hypertension can be caused by many things, including:

You can read more about the different forms of pulmonary hypertension here.

What factors increase my risk of pulmonary hypertension?

Things that can raise your risk of pulmonary hypertension include:

  • a family history of pulmonary hypertension and certain other disorders
  • obesity and obstructive sleep apnoea
  • pregnancy
  • living at high altitude
  • certain toxins, medicines or drugs
  • smoking

How is pulmonary hypertension diagnosed?

If you have signs of pulmonary hypertension, your doctor will examine you and ask about your:

  • symptoms
  • health conditions
  • medicines
  • risk factors
  • family history

There are many tests and procedures that your doctor may use to see if you have pulmonary hypertension. They may include:

Pulmonary hypertension can happen alone, or it may be linked to other diseases.

How is pulmonary hypertension treated?

If you are diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, your doctor will talk with you about treatment options such as:

  • medicines
  • oxygen therapy
  • surgery or other procedures

Self-managing your pulmonary hypertension can ease your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Your doctor may also ask you to:

There is no cure for pulmonary hypertension. However, early treatment will help improve how you feel and how your disease progresses.

If you have anxiety or stress living with pulmonary hypertension, ask for help. Support groups can help you to manage your situation.

Complications of pulmonary hypertension

In some people, an organ transplant may need to be considered. This is where your heart and lungs or just your lungs are replaced with those from a donor.

Resources and support

To learn more about pulmonary hypertension and how to connect with others visit the Pulmonary Hypertension Association Australia website.

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2023

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