Pulmonary hypertension – PH for short – is a serious condition that causes high blood pressure in the blood vessels connecting the heart and lungs (the pulmonary arteries).
In a healthy cardiovascular system, the right-side to the heart pumps blood into the lungs to pick up oxygen and this oxygen-rich blood is then pumped around the body by the left-side of the heart.
When a person develops PH, the walls of the pulmonary arteries become stiff and thickened, or blocked by blood clots. This makes it difficult for them to expand; and trying to pump blood through these tightened, narrowed, scarred or blocked arteries puts increasing strain on the right side of the heart as it tries to do its job. The essential task of pumping blood into the lungs to pick up oxygen which can then be circulated to every cell in the body becomes much harder.
PH affects people’s abilities to carry out basic tasks and get around. People with this condition often look well at rest and it’s only through a simple activity such as climbing the stairs that they may experience symptoms:
Living with the chronic condition can also have a significant impact on emotional wellbeing and self-esteem as people deal with the frustrations caused by PH and their worries about the future.
Pulmonary hypertension is rare. Around 7,000 people are diagnosed with PH in the UK. It can affect anyone, regardless of age or ethnic background. It affects more women than men.
In most people, PH is associated with another medical condition such as congenital heart disease, connective tissue disease, HIV infection or sickle cell anaemia. A small number of people with PH develop it without having another medical condition – this is known as pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH).