New Orleans – Shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, these are all symptoms doctors see frequently and often attribute to common diseases. But these common symptoms don’t always indicate common illnesses. Sometimes they signal a serious, rare condition – pulmonary hypertension (PH), or high blood pressure in the blood vessels between the heart and lungs, potentially resulting in heart failure.
Not every city has the highly specialized care need to treat PH. However, Ochsner’s PH program – part of the John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute, provides diagnosis, treatment, patient support and research.
Over 1,000 new patients are diagnosed each with PH each year, and as many as 30,000 patients are living with the diagnosis in the U.S. today.
“PH affects people of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds with risk factors that make some people more susceptible to the disease,” said Avery McKee, RN, BSN, RRT, Pulmonary Hypertension Coordinator, Ochsner Medical Center. “At Ochsner, we have a multi-disciplinary staff of pulmonary physicians and cardiologist who educate and care for patients diagnosed with this treatable disease. The key is to identify the diagnosis before the prognosis becomes unmanageable which can result in seriously ill and disabled patients.”
"The major barrier in PH care today is misdiagnosis, often several times over a few years while the disease worsens," said Rino Aldrighetti, president of the pulmonary hypertension association. "PHA's new early diagnosis initiative, Sometimes it's PH, will educate more health care providers about when to suspect PH, how to screen for it and the importance of teaming up with highly specialized professionals to diagnose and treat this complex illness."
The symptoms for all types of pulmonary hypertension (PH) may be similar, and symptoms are usually more severe as the disease progresses. The most common symptoms of PH may include:
- Chest pain (also called angina pectoris)
- Fainting (also called syncope)
- Loss of energy
- Swelling of the arms, legs, ankles or abdomen (also called edema)
- Dry cough
- Raynaud’s phenomenon (chalky white or dusky blue fingers that may be painful and can sometimes be provoked by the cold)
In advanced stages of pulmonary hypertension, minimal activity may produce some or all of these symptoms. Patients in advanced stages may experience irregular heartbeat, a racing pulse, passing out and difficulty breathing at rest.
Certain risk factors may also play a role, including:
- Family history. If two or more members of your family have PH or if a family member in your lineage is known to have a PH-causing gene mutation, the risk of getting PH is more likely. Genetic counseling is available to discuss these issues.
- Obesity and obstructive sleep apnea. In isolation, obesity is not a risk factor. However, if obesity is combined with obstructive sleep apnea (meaning that oxygen levels fall while a person is sleeping), mild PH may occur.
- Gender. PH is more common in women than in men, and females of childbearing age are also more susceptible.
- Altitude. Living at a high altitude for years can make you more predisposed to PH. Travelling to high altitudes may aggravate PH symptoms.
- Other diseases. Other diseases, including congenital heart disease, lung disease, liver disease and connective tissue disorders like scleroderma and lupus, can lead to the development of pulmonary hypertension.
- Drugs and toxins. Certain drugs, such as methamphetamines and the diet drug “fen phen,” are known to cause pulmonary hypertension.
Mckee will be presenting on a seminar PH at the 2012 American Association or Respiratory Care (AARC) International Respiratory Congress on November 11-13, 2012 in New Orleans, LA.
To view a 1-minute video spot about early diagnosis of PH visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mo4eSbHjUKo
For more information on pulmonary hypertension, please visit www.ochsner.org
Ochsner Health System is southeast Louisiana’s largest non-profit, academic, multi-specialty, healthcare delivery system with eight hospitals and 38 health centers in Louisiana. Ochsner has been named the Consumer Choice for Healthcare in New Orleans for 16 consecutive years and is the only Louisiana hospital recognized by U.S. News and World Report as a “Best Hospital” across 11 specialty categories. Ochsner employs more than 13,000 employees, over 850 physicians in over 90 medical specialties and subspecialties and conducts over 300 clinical research trials annually. Ochsner Health System is proud to be a tobacco-free environment. For more information, please visit ochsner.org and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
PHA, headquartered in Silver Spring, Md. is the country’s leading organization connecting pulmonary hypertension patients, families, and medical professionals. Its mission is to find ways to prevent and cure pulmonary hypertension and provide hope for the community through support, education, advocacy and awareness. PHA provides free access to information on its Web site about pulmonary hypertension and facilitates over 200 support groups around the nation, helping many of the estimated 30,000 diagnosed patients in the U.S. To learn more, visit: http://www.phassociation.org/