Pulmonary Hypertension

At MaineHealth, our doctors and specialists provide complete care for people with pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure in the lungs. Services include diagnosis, treatment and follow-up support. Your primary care doctor can coordinate PH care with pulmonologists, cardiologists, rehabilitation therapists and other specialists as needed. We have both in-patient and out-patient care for pulmonary hypertension.

What is pulmonary hypertension?

Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure in the lungs. The blood pressure taken with a cuff on your arm is not the same as the blood pressure in your lungs. Pulmonary hypertension happens when the arteries in your lungs grow thicker and narrow. They cannot carry enough blood through the lungs. There is no cure for pulmonary hypertension. It’s important to get treatment to improve symptoms and slow down the progress of the disease.

Pulmonary hypertension risks and symptoms

Pulmonary hypertension usually develops in adults between the ages of 20 and 60, but it can happen at any age. The following are risk factors for pulmonary hypertension:

  • Family history of the disease

  • Medical history of other heart and lung diseases

  • Having liver disease

  • HIV infection

  • Blood clots in the pulmonary arteries

  • Cocaine use

  • Taking certain diet medications

Pulmonary hypertension symptoms

Signs and symptoms of pulmonary hypertension often develop slowly. Feeling tired and rundown are common early signs, though some people have no symptoms at all. Here are other common symptoms of pulmonary hypertension:

  • Feeling out of breath

  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded

  • Feeling chest pressure

  • Swollen ankles or legs

  • Fainting spells

  • Racing heart

Diagnosing pulmonary hypertension

If you think you or a loved one may have pulmonary hypertension, see your primary care doctor or family healthcare provider. Your doctor may send you to see a cardiologist, pulmonologist or other specialist for further evaluation. The doctor or specialist will ask for family and medical history, and also give you a physical exam. There also may be tests and screenings that include:

  • Echocardiography

  • Chest X-ray

  • EKG, or electrocardiogram

  • Sleep testing

  • Cardiopulmonary exercise testing

  • Heart catheterization

  • Chest CT scan

Pulmonary hypertension treatment

Medication and oxygen therapy can help improve symptoms and help people feel better. Exercise also can help symptoms. Your primary care doctor or family healthcare provider will coordinate care with your specialist. Patients also may receive rehabilitation therapy and home health nursing services. Surgery to remove blood clots from arteries may be an option. In some cases, patients who have no other medical options may be evaluated for a lung or heart-lung transplant.