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Pulmonary Hypertension

What is pulmonary hypertension?

Pulmonary hypertension, sometimes called PH, is a serious condition that affects the blood vessels in the lungs. It develops when the blood pressure in your lungs is higher than normal.

Your heart pumps blood to your lungs so they can add oxygen to the blood. The blood goes back to your heart. From there, it travels to the rest of your body so that your tissues can get the oxygen that they need.

The blood moves from your heart to your lungs through blood vessels called pulmonary arteries. If the pulmonary arteries become damaged, narrowed, or blocked, the blood does not flow through them as well. This can increase the blood pressure in the arteries and cause pulmonary hypertension.

There are different types of pulmonary hypertension, including pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). The different types are based on what caused the disease.

What causes pulmonary hypertension?

Pulmonary hypertension can develop on its own or be caused by another condition. Sometimes the cause is unknown or is not clear.

Some of the possible causes include:

  • Heart diseases, including left-sided heart failure and congenital heart disease
  • Lung diseases such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), interstitial lung disease, emphysema, and sleep apnea
  • Other medical conditions such as:
    • Liver diseases
    • Sickle cell disease
    • Pulmonary embolism (blood clots in the lungs)
    • Connective tissue disorders like scleroderma
Who is more likely to develop pulmonary hypertension?

Certain factors can make you more likely to develop pulmonary hypertension, such as:

  • Your age. The risk increases as you get older. The condition is usually diagnosed between ages 30 and 60.
  • Your environment. Being exposed to asbestos or having certain infections caused by parasites can raise your risk.
  • Your family history and genetics. Certain genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome, congenital heart disease, and Gaucher disease, can raise your risk of pulmonary hypertension. So can a family history of blood clots.
  • Your lifestyle habits.Smoking and illegal drug use can raise your risk of developing pulmonary hypertension.
  • Certain medicines. For example, some medicines used to treat cancer and depression can make you more likely to develop pulmonary hypertension.
  • Your sex. Pulmonary hypertension is more common in women than in men.
What are the symptoms of pulmonary hypertension?

The symptoms of pulmonary hypertension are sometimes hard to recognize and are similar to the symptoms of other medical conditions. So sometimes it can take years for someone to get diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension.

The symptoms of pulmonary hypertension may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Dizziness that may lead to fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling of the abdomen, legs, or feet
  • Heart palpitations (the feeling that your heart is pounding or beating too fast)
What other problems can pulmonary hypertension cause?

Pulmonary hypertension can get worse over time and lead to serious problems, including:

  • Anemia, which can cause your body to not get enough oxygen-rich blood
  • Arrhythmias, problems with the rate or rhythm of your heartbeat
  • Blood clots in the pulmonary arteries
  • Bleeding in the lungs
  • Heart failure
  • Liver damage
  • Pericardial effusion, a collection of fluid around the heart
  • Serious pregnancy complications
How is pulmonary hypertension diagnosed?

To find out if you have pulmonary hypertension, your health care provider:

  • Will ask about your medical history and symptoms
  • Will do a physical exam, which may include checking your blood oxygen, listening to your heart and lungs, and checking your blood pressure
  • Will likely order some tests, such as:
    • Blood tests to look for blood clots, stress on the heart, or anemia
    • Heart imaging tests, such as a cardiac MRI
    • Lung imaging tests, such as chest x-ray
    • An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
What are the treatments for pulmonary hypertension?

Often there is no cure for pulmonary hypertension, but treatments can help manage your symptoms. Your provider will work with you to come up with a treatment plan. It will be based on your needs and the cause of the pulmonary hypertension. The plan may include:

  • Healthy lifestyle changes, such as:
    • Healthy eating, which includes eating less salt
    • Regular physical activity, which may be done through pulmonary rehabilitation
  • Medicines, such as:
    • Blood thinners
    • Medicines to control the rate blood is pumped throughout the body
    • Medicines to relax blood vessels and allow the blood to flow better
    • Medicine to reduce swelling (diuretics)
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Procedures to reduce pressure in the heart or pulmonary artery
  • In some severe cases, a lung transplant

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Respiratory Failure

What is respiratory failure?

Respiratory failure is a condition in which your blood doesn't have enough oxygen or has too much carbon dioxide. Sometimes you can have both problems.

When you breathe, your lungs take in oxygen. The oxygen passes into your blood, which carries it to your organs. Your organs, such as your heart and brain, need this oxygen-rich blood to work well.

Another part of breathing is removing the carbon dioxide from the blood and breathing it out. Having too much carbon dioxide in your blood can harm your organs.

What causes respiratory failure?

Conditions that affect your breathing can cause respiratory failure. These conditions may affect the muscles, nerves, bones, or tissues that support breathing. Or they may affect the lungs directly. These conditions include:

  • Diseases that affect the lungs, such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), cystic fibrosis, pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, and COVID-19
  • Conditions that affect the nerves and muscles that control breathing, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injuries, and stroke
  • Problems with the spine, such as scoliosis (a curve in the spine). They can affect the bones and muscles used for breathing.
  • Damage to the tissues and ribs around the lungs. An injury to the chest can cause this damage.
  • Drug or alcohol overdose
  • Inhalation injuries, such as from inhaling smoke (from fires) or harmful fumes
What are the symptoms of respiratory failure?

The symptoms of respiratory failure depend on the cause and the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood.

A low oxygen level in the blood can cause shortness of breath and air hunger (the feeling that you can't breathe in enough air). Your skin, lips, and fingernails may also have a bluish color. A high carbon dioxide level can cause rapid breathing and confusion.

Some people who have respiratory failure may become very sleepy or lose consciousness. They also may have arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). You may have these symptoms if your brain and heart are not getting enough oxygen.

How is respiratory failure diagnosed?

Your health care provider will diagnose respiratory failure based on:

  • Your medical history
  • A physical exam, which often includes
    • Listening to your lungs to check for abnormal sounds
    • Listening to your heart to check for arrhythmia
    • Looking for a bluish color on your skin, lips, and fingernails
  • Diagnostic tests, such as
    • Pulse oximetry, a small sensor that uses a light to measure how much oxygen is in your blood. The sensor goes on the end of your finger or on your ear.
    • Arterial blood gas test, a test that measures the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your blood. The blood sample is taken from an artery, usually in your wrist.

Once you are diagnosed with respiratory failure, your provider will look for what is causing it. Tests for this often include a chest x-ray. If your provider thinks you may have arrhythmia because of the respiratory failure, you may have an EKG (electrocardiogram). This is simple, painless test that detects and records your heart's electrical activity.

What are the treatments for respiratory failure?

Treatment for respiratory failure depends on:

  • Whether it is acute (short-term) or chronic (ongoing)
  • How severe it is
  • What is causing it

Acute respiratory failure can be a medical emergency. You may need treatment in intensive care unit at a hospital. Chronic respiratory failure can often be treated at home. But if your chronic respiratory failure is severe, you might need treatment in a long-term care center.

One of the main goals of treatment is to get oxygen to your lungs and other organs and remove carbon dioxide from your body. Another goal is to treat the cause of the condition. Treatments may include:

  • Oxygen therapy, through a nasal cannula (two small plastic tubes that go in your nostrils) or through a mask that fits over your nose and mouth
  • Tracheostomy, a surgically-made hole that goes through the front of your neck and into your windpipe. A breathing tube, also called a tracheostomy, or trach tube, is placed in the hole to help you breathe.
  • Ventilator, a breathing machine that blows air into your lungs. It also carries carbon dioxide out of your lungs.
  • Other breathing treatments, such as noninvasive positive pressure ventilation (NPPV), which uses mild air pressure to keep your airways open while you sleep. Another treatment is a special bed that rocks back and forth, to help you breathe in and out.
  • Fluids, often through an intravenous (IV), to improve blood flow throughout your body. They also provide nutrition.
  • Medicines for discomfort
  • Treatments for the cause of the respiratory failure. These treatments may include medicines and procedures.

If you have respiratory failure, see your health care provider for ongoing medical care. Your provider may suggest pulmonary rehabilitation.

If your respiratory failure is chronic, make sure that you know when and where to get help for your symptoms. You need emergency care if you have severe symptoms, such as trouble catching your breath or talking. You should call your provider if you notice that your symptoms are worsening or if you have new signs and symptoms.

Living with respiratory failure may cause fear, anxiety, depression, and stress. Talk therapy, medicines, and support groups can help you feel better.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Breathing Problems

When you're short of breath, it's hard or uncomfortable for you to take in the oxygen your body needs. You may feel as if you're not getting enough air. Sometimes you can have mild breathing problems because of a stuffy nose or intense exercise. But shortness of breath can also be a sign of a serious disease.

Many conditions can make you feel short of breath:

  • Lung conditions such as asthma, emphysema, or pneumonia
  • Problems with your trachea or bronchi, which are part of your airway system
  • Heart disease can make you feel breathless if your heart cannot pump enough blood to supply oxygen to your body
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Allergies

If you often have trouble breathing, it is important to find out the cause.


Ozone is a gas. It can be good or bad, depending on where it is. "Good" ozone occurs naturally about 10 to 30 miles above the Earth's surface. It shields us from the sun's ultraviolet rays. Part of the good ozone layer is gone. Man-made chemicals have destroyed it. Without enough good ozone, people may get too much ultraviolet radiation. This may increase the risk of skin cancer, cataracts, and immune system problems.

"Bad" ozone is at ground level. It forms when pollutants from cars, factories, and other sources react chemically with sunlight. It is the main ingredient in smog. It is usually worst in the summer. Breathing bad ozone can be harmful. It can cause coughing, throat irritation, worsening of asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema. It can lead to permanent lung damage, if you are regularly exposed to it.

Environmental Protection Agency

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