Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure in the arteries of your lungs. It happens when the lung's tiny arteries narrow or become blocked. To keep blood flowing through these narrowed blood vessels, pressure increases in the arteries, which makes the lower right chamber (right ventricle) of your heart work harder. Eventually your heart begins to weaken and fail.
Pulmonary hypertension can happen by itself. But it is often caused by an existing disease. It is a rare condition that mostly affects women in their 30s or 40s. Scientists think the hormone estrogen may play a role in the onset of pulmonary hypertension. Treatments can reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.
The most common symptom of pulmonary hypertension is shortness of breath, first when you exercise and later while at rest. Other symptoms include:
- Getting tired easily
- Fainting or dizziness
- Chest pain
- Swelling in your legs
- Blue lips or skin
What Causes It?
Sometimes there is no known cause. In that case, the condition is called idiopathic pulmonary hypertension. If another medical condition is causing the problem, it is called secondary pulmonary hypertension. Conditions that can lead to pulmonary hypertension include:
- Heart disease
- Mitral stenosis or regurgitation
- Certain kinds of lung disease
- Obesity, especially with sleep apnea
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- High altitude
- Left side heart failure
- Sickle cell anemia
- Among infants, low birth weight
What to Expect at Your Doctor's Office
Your doctor will give you a thorough examination and order laboratory tests to diagnose your condition. You may have an x-ray or electrocardiogram (ECG). Other tests may include an echocardiogram, heart catheterization, lung scan, computerized tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
If you have pulmonary hypertension because of another condition, that condition must be treated. You should avoid too much physical stress or exercise, although mild, regular exercise may help reduce symptoms like shortness of breath. Ask your doctor to create an exercise plan for you. If your disease has progressed, your doctor may recommend you have a lung or heart transplant.
Some treatments your doctor may use include:
- Supplemental oxygen
- Vasodilators. Open narrowed arteries. Epoprostenol (Flolan) is given intravenously (IV) through a small catheter attached to a portable pump. Iloprost (Ventavis) is a version of the same drug that you inhale.
- Endothelin receptor antagonists. Helps open blood vessels by blocking endothelin, a substance that causes blood vessels to constrict. These drugs include bosentan (Tracleer) and ambrisentan (Letairis).
- Anticoagulants, such as warfarin (Coumadin) to keep blood clots from forming.
- Diuretics (water pills). To get rid of excess fluid in your body that can build up in your lungs and make your heart work harder.
- Antioxidants. To regulate pulmonary vascular tone and thicken smooth muscle.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
If you have pulmonary hypertension, you should be under a conventional medical doctor's care. Make sure your doctor knows about any herbs or supplements you may be thinking about using. DO NOT use complementary and alternative therapies (CAM) by themselves to treat pulmonary hypertension, unless directed to do so by your doctor.
While none of these supplements specifically treats pulmonary hypertension, they may help heart health and function.
- Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). Good for heart health, and may help lower blood pressure. DO NOT take CoQ10 if you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin) or clopidogrel (Plavix). CoQ10 may increase clotting and make these medications less effective.
- L-carnitine. Improves endurance and is good for heart health. DO NOT take L-carnitine if you take blood thinners or thyroid hormone.
- Magnesium. Helps your heart work better and may help lower blood pressure. Magnesium interacts with many medications, as well as other herbs and supplements. So talk to your doctor before taking magnesium.
- Potassium. Helps heart muscle contract. If you take a certain kind of diuretic, your doctor may tell you to take a potassium supplement. Your doctor will tell you how much to take. DO NOT take potassium on your own, however. If you take another kind of diuretic, taking a potassium supplement could be dangerous. Ask your doctor before taking extra potassium.
- Vitamin E and vitamin C. Antioxidants that protect the heart and strengthen the immune system. DO NOT take vitamin E if you take blood thinners. Vitamin E can interact with a number of medications. So ask your doctor before taking it.
- Taurine. Good for heart health and may help lower blood pressure. Taurine may act like a diuretic, so DO NOT take it if you already take a diuretic (water pill), or if you take lithium.
Herbs are a way to strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your doctor to diagnose your problem before starting treatment. You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, and teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, make teas with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day. You may use tinctures alone or in combination as noted.
DO NOT take these herbs without your doctor's supervision. Many interact with each other and with other prescription medications. And they can cause unwanted side effects. These herbs have not been studied specifically for pulmonary hypertension.
- Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). Hawthorn has been shown to help reduce symptoms of heart failure. Some people think it may help lower blood pressure, although so far studies are lacking. Hawthorn interacts with many drugs taken to treat heart disease, high blood pressure, and heart failure.
- Linden (Tilia cordata). May help the body get rid of excess fluid. Strain and cool. DO NOT take linden if you take diuretics (water pills) or lithium.
- Garlic (Allium sativum). May help lower blood pressure. Garlic may increase the risk of bleeding, especially if you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin). Garlic may also interact with other medications. Ask your doctor before taking garlic.
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). May help the body get rid of excess fluid. DO NOT take rosemary if you take diuretics (water pills). Speak to your doctor if you are taking blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin) or aspirin, among others.
- Danshen (Salvia miltiorrhiza). Dilates blood vessels. DO NOT take danshen if you take blood thinners (anticoagulants). Danshen may also interact with other drugs, including clarithromycin (Biaxin), cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune), digoxin (Lanoxin), diltiazem (Cardizem), lovastatin (Mevacor), birth control pills, and many others.
Homeopathy may be helpful when used along with conventional medical treatment.
Castor oil pack. Apply oil to a clean, soft cloth, place on chest and cover with plastic wrap. Place a heat source over the pack and let sit for 30 to 60 minutes. Use for 3 consecutive days, take 1 to 2 days off, and then repeat 3-day cycle.
Contrast hydrotherapy. Alternate hot and cold applications to the chest. Alternate 3 minutes hot with 1 minute cold. Repeat 3 times to complete 1 set. Do 2 to 3 sets per day.
Steams. Using 3 to 6 drops of essential oils in a humidifier, vaporizer, atomizer, or warm bath may help reduce shortness of breath and improve circulation. Consider eucalyptus, rosemary, thyme, or lavender.
Acupuncture may help improve circulation.
Pulmonary hypertension gets worse over time, and it may lead to heart failure of other heart complications. It is important to work closely with your doctor to treat your symptoms and adjust your medication as needed.
For the most part, women who have primary pulmonary hypertension should not get pregnant because the condition is dangerous for both mother and baby.
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