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Mention heart disease and what immediately comes to people’s minds are high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, smoking and trans fats. But did you know that there are other causes of heart disease, particularly coronary artery disease, its most common form? One of these is a little-known condition called pulmonary hypertension. Here is what you need to know about coronary artery disease due to pulmonary hypertension.
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What Is Pulmonary Hypertension?
Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure that occurs only in the blood vessels connected to the lungs. It arises when the pulmonary arteries thicken or get blocked, constricting blood flow to the lungs and raising blood pressure within these arteries. The lower right chamber of the heart, called the right ventricle, has to pump harder to get blood into the lungs, but the overwork causes its walls to enlarge and thicken. Over time, the condition can weaken the heart. Coronary artery disease due to pulmonary hypertension, if left untreated, can lead to heart failure.
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Causes and Symptoms of Pulmonary Hypertension
Pulmonary hypertension may be brought on by diseases of the lungs, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema and pulmonary fibrosis. Other causes are left-sided heart failure, congenital heart disease, HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, blood clots in the lungs, sleep disorders, massive lung tissue loss from surgery or trauma, connective tissue disorders such as scleroderma and chronic liver disease.
For some people, pulmonary hypertension may have no identifiable cause. This condition, called idiopathic pulmonary hypertension, affects twice more women than men. It is suspected to have a genetic link.
Until the pulmonary hypertension has advanced — which can often take years — you may not be aware of any symptoms. And then you may experience breathlessness, fatigue, dizziness, chest pain, swelling in the lower limbs and heart palpitations.
Your doctor may first suspect pulmonary hypertension following a physical examination. He may hear heart sounds indicative of a strained right ventricle. Pulmonary hypertension and coronary artery disease (if it has already set in as a complication) can later be verified by laboratory tests such as chest x-rays, echocardiograms, magnetic resonance imaging, biopsy, lung function tests and cardiac catherization.
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Treating Pulmonary Hypertension
Pulmonary hypertension is incurable and gets worse as time passes. However, new treatments and diligent physician’s care can alleviate the symptoms arising from the condition and prevent heart disease. Even those who already have coronary artery disease due to pulmonary hypertension can look forward to a better outlook as medical science continues to develop more effective medications.
Depending on the severity and underlying cause of your pulmonary hypertension, you may be prescribed medications like vasodilators to dilate blood vessels, calcium channel blockers to relax the blood vessel walls, and anticoagulants to prevent blood clots and pulmonary embolism. An oxygen mask may be needed for constant oxygen infusion. Severe cases may have to resort to open-heart surgery and lung transplantation.
Availing yourself of medical care, however, is not enough to manage pulmonary hypertension and prevent coronary artery disease. It should be coupled with lifestyle changes for maximum effect. Make sure you get enough rest, stay physically active (with your doctor’s supervision), keep to your ideal weight, stop smoking and eat a healthy, low-salt diet. Healthy living will ease the pressure on your heart and lungs, allowing you to engage in a productive life.
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