Pulmonary Hypertension Causes and Risk Factors
What causes pulmonary hypertension?
The cause of pulmonary hypertension is not always clear. Certain medical conditions can damage, change, or block the blood vessels of the pulmonary arteries, which can lead to pulmonary hypertension.
Some examples of medical conditions include:
- Left heart diseases, such as left heart failure, which may be caused by high blood pressure throughout your body or coronary heart disease
- Other heart and blood vessel diseases such as congenital (inherited) heart defects
- Lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), interstitial lung disease, emphysema, or sleep apnea
- Other medical conditions such as liver disease, sickle cell disease, blood clots in the lungs, or connective tissue disorders like scleroderma
How does pulmonary hypertension affect the heart and lungs?
To understand pulmonary hypertension, it is helpful to understand the job of the heart and lungs, and the flow of blood.
As your heart beats, it sends blood throughout the body. The tissues of the body need oxygen from the blood to function properly. After the tissues use oxygen from the blood, they send oxygen-poor blood to the right side of the heart. Then, the heart pumps oxygen-poor blood through the pulmonary arteries to the lungs so the lungs can add oxygen to the blood. The force (pressure) of the blood against the walls of the pulmonary arteries is called the pulmonary pressure.
When this pressure gets too high, the pulmonary arteries become narrow or blocked. This makes the blood not flow as well, so the heart has to work harder to maintain blood flow into the lungs. Over time, this can cause damage to the heart and lungs.
What raises the risk of pulmonary hypertension?
Several factors can increase your risk of developing pulmonary hypertension.
- Age: Pulmonary hypertension can occur at any age, but your risk increases as you get older. The condition is usually diagnosed between ages 30 and 60.
- Environment: You may be at an increased risk of pulmonary hypertension if you have or are exposed to Asbestos or certain infections caused by parasites.
- Family history and genetics: Certain genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome, congenital heart disease, and Gaucher disease, can increase your risk of pulmonary hypertension. A family history of blood clots also increases your risk.
- Lifestyle habits: Unhealthy lifestyle habits such as smoking and illegal drug use can raise your risk of developing pulmonary hypertension.
- Medicine: Some prescribed medicines used to treat cancer and depression may increase your risk of pulmonary hypertension.
- Sex: Pulmonary hypertension is more common in women than in men. Pulmonary hypertension with certain types of heart failure is also more common in women.
Can you prevent pulmonary hypertension?
Prevention is not always possible since the cause of pulmonary hypertension is not always clear. Your doctor may suggest a preventative screening if you have a known risk factor or medical condition that causes pulmonary hypertension. Your doctor may also recommend prevention strategies to help you lower your risk of developing pulmonary hypertension. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors and concerns to learn more.