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Pulmonary hypertension

What is pulmonary hypertension?

Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure in the blood vessels that carry blood to your lungs. They are called the pulmonary arteries.

Pulmonary: to do with your lungs

Hypertension: high blood pressure

This is not the same blood pressure measured by a cuff on your arm. To measure and diagnose pulmonary hypertension, health care professionals use a key test called right heart catheterisation.

How do the lungs and heart work together?

pulmonary circulation
  1. Blood from the body comes back to your heart in large veins. This blood has a low oxygen level, because some of the oxygen has been used by your muscles and other organs.
  2. The veins take the blood into the right side of your heart. The right side of the heart is a low pressure system and it pumps blood to the lungs. The main pump on the right side is called the right ventricle.
  3. In the lungs, the blood picks up oxygen (and the waste gas carbon dioxide is removed). Blood coming back from the lungs goes to the left side of the heart.
  4. The left side of the heart is a higher pressure system and pumps blood high in oxygen to the rest of your body.

What happens if you have pulmonary hypertension?

Pulmonary hypertension means the right side of your heart has to work harder to push blood through the lungs. This is because the blood vessels in the lung (pulmonary arteries) are blocked, narrowed or destroyed. The result is higher pressure in the right ventricle that pumps blood around your lungs.

Over time, the right ventricle begins to struggle with this extra work. It can become weaker and pump less effectively. This causes symptoms of pulmonary hypertension.

Who gets pulmonary hypertension?

It can affect people of any age.

But one type of pulmonary hypertension, pulmonary arterial hypertension is more common in women. Some research suggests that this is due to differences between male and female hormones.

Pulmonary hypertension can happen by itself, be caused by another heart or lung condition or be associated with other medical conditions such as connective tissue conditions.

What are the symptoms of pulmonary hypertension?

The main symptom of pulmonary hypertension is breathlessness. Other symptoms are:

  • feeling tired
  • feeling dizzy or faint, especially when you exercise
  • a racing heartbeat
  • leg, ankle and tummy swelling
  • chest pain, especially after exercise

These symptoms may get worse when you exercise, or when you do activities like walking up hill or up the stairs.

Next: Causes of pulmonary hypertension >

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Last medically reviewed: October 2018. Due for review: October 2021

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.