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A to Z: Hypertension, Pulmonary

May also be called: Pulmonary Hypertension; Pulmonary Arteriopathy; Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension; Primary Pulmonary Hypertension; Idiopathic Pulmonary Hypertension; Secondary Pulmonary Hypertension

Pulmonary hypertension (PUL-muh-nair-ee hy-pur-TEN-shun) is a condition that occurs when the blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs is abnormally high.

More to Know

The body has two circulatory systems:

  1. Systemic circulation sends blood from the heart to all the other parts of the body and back again.
  2. Pulmonary circulation is a short loop from the heart to the lungs and back again.

Pulmonary hypertension happens when there is abnormally high blood pressure in the pulmonary circulation, which means the heart has to work harder to pump blood against the high pressure.

Pulmonary hypertension is caused by narrowing or blockage of the arteries and tiny blood vessels called capillaries in the lungs. This can be the result of another medical problem or the use of certain drugs, in which case it is called secondary pulmonary hypertension. In some cases, however, there is no identifiable cause. This is called primary or idiopathic pulmonary hypertension.

Pulmonary hypertension can cause breathing difficulties, chest pain, weakness, and fatigue. Over time it can lead to right-sided heart failure, blood clots, irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia), and bleeding in the lungs. Without treatment, these complications can become life threatening.

Treatment for pulmonary hypertension usually involves medications that help improve blood flow in the pulmonary arteries. In rare cases, surgery to relieve the pressure or a heart or lung transplant may be performed.

Keep in Mind

There is no cure for pulmonary hypertension, but medical treatment and lifestyle changes — such as maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, avoiding high altitudes, staying active, and getting plenty of rest — can help minimize symptoms.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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