CINCINNATI—If you can’t walk down the hall without stopping to catch your breath, or if routine exercise makes you feel like you’ve just finished a marathon, it may be more than simply being out of shape, according to a UC expert.
Jean Elwing, MD, a pulmonologist in the division of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine, said people suffering from pulmonary arterial hypertension often think they are just getting older or gaining weight.
“Pulmonary arterial hypertension is a serious disease, life-threatening even,” said Elwing. “Symptoms should not be ignored.”
Pulmonary arterial hypertension is a blood vessel disorder of the lungs in which pressure in the pulmonary artery, the blood vessel that leads from the heart to the lungs, rises above normal levels.
Although once thought to be a rare disease affecting mostly younger women, Elwing said, it’s becoming more commonly recognized and diagnosed in all ages, both genders and even children.
“It can occur for genetic reasons or spontaneously,” she added. “Pulmonary arterial hypertension can also be associated with several other systemic diseases.”
Elwing said pulmonary arterial hypertension is most frequently found in patients with, scleroderma, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, cirrhosis, HIV/AIDS, blood disorders such as sickle cell anemia, and congenital heart disease.
“It often goes unrecognized and is often undertreated,” Elwing said. “Pulmonary hypertension is a chronic disease that requires close monitoring. The quicker we diagnose the illness in someone, the sooner we can impact his or her quality and quantity of life.”
Elwing said several treatments are available, including oral, inhaled and intravenous therapies that can significantly improve the lives of pulmonary arterial hypertension patients.
“There’s no easy way to prevent the development of this illness,” Elwing said. “Recognition is the key.”
Elwing said people should seek immediate evaluation if they experience the following:
- Shortness of breath with minimal exertion
- Decreased exercise tolerance
- Chest pain
- Dizzy spells
She said echocardiograms are generally used to check for the illness, but heart catheterization is needed for confirmation.
But if pulmonary hypertension is a possibility, Elwing said, the effort is worth it.
“The average life expectancy for someone with untreated pulmonary arterial hypertension who is diagnosed in the later stages of the disease is only about two and a half to three years,” she said. “But if it’s found in the early stages and treated, people can live a semi-normal life. We want people to be aware of the symptoms and ask their physician for help.”
For more information on pulmonary hypertension, visit http://www.netwellness.org/healthtopics/pulhypertension/overview.cfm. NetWellness is a commercial-free, consumer-health Web site that UC produces in collaboration with Case Western Reserve and Ohio State universities.