Symptoms of Pulmonary Hypertension

By Stephanie Watson @YourCareE
June 06, 2023
Symptoms of Pulmonary Hypertension

Pulmonary hypertension can weaken your heart so much that it can't push enough blood out to your lungs. Know the symptoms and how to manage it.

Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure in the arteries that carry blood from your heart to your lungs. It's a very serious condition that can lead to complications like heart failure without the right treatment.

Normally, your heart pumps blood to your lungs to pick up oxygen. Oxygen-rich blood then travels back to your heart, which pumps it out to your body.

In pulmonary hypertension, arteries in your lungs become swollen and narrow. Blood can't flow through them as easily as it should, which forces your heart to work harder. Eventually your heart can weaken so much that it can't push enough blood out to your lungs.


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Pulmonary hypertension signs and symptoms

Pulmonary hypertension doesn't always have symptoms. When symptoms do occur, your symptoms will depend on how long you've lived with the condition.

The first symptom is usually shortness of breath. You might find that you get winded during activities that used to be easy for you, like climbing stairs or shopping at the grocery store.

Other early symptoms include:

  • Racing heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Tiredness
  • Chest pain
  • Appetite loss
  • Pain in the upper right side of your belly

The symptoms may be mild at first, but, as the disease progresses, they can get more noticeable and bothersome.

Later symptoms of pulmonary hypertension include:

  • Dizziness or fainting, especially when you exercise
  • Chest pain
  • Bluish color to your lips or skin
  • Swelling from fluid buildup in your ankles and legs

What to do if you have symptoms

See a doctor for symptoms of pulmonary hypertension. You might start with your primary care provider, who can refer you to a specialist who treats heart diseases (cardiologist) or lung diseases (pulmonologist).

Doctors use a variety of tests to diagnose pulmonary hypertension, including:

  • Blood tests
  • Chest x-ray
  • Chest computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Lung function tests
  • Echocardiogram

Treatments for pulmonary hypertension

There isn't a cure for pulmonary hypertension, but your doctor can prescribe treatments to manage breathlessness and other symptoms and prevent complications.

Medications for pulmonary hypertension include:

  • Oxygen therapy to increase the level of oxygen in your blood
  • Diuretics to help your body get rid of excess fluid
  • Pulmonary vasodilators to relax and open the arteries in your lungs
  • Blood thinners to prevent blood clots in your lungs

Some people will need surgery to reduce pressure in their heart and lungs. In the most severe cases, a lung transplant or a heart-lung transplant may be necessary.

Making changes to your diet, exercise routine, and other parts of your daily life can help make the symptoms of pulmonary hypertension more manageable.

  • Eat to protect your heart. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein should be the main components of your diet. Try to limit salt, which may affect your blood pressure, as well as cholesterol and sugar. If you take blood thinners, ask your doctor if you need to limit vitamin K in your diet (found in leafy green vegetables) because it can affect how well these medications work.
  • Stay active. Try to do some form of exercise on most days. Ask your doctor which types of activity are safest for you. Strength training is fine, but don't lift heavy weights. If you feel short of breath at any time during exercise, stop what you're doing and talk to your doctor.
  • Quit smoking. Get help from your doctor to break the habit. Smoking is harmful to your heart and lungs, both of which need extra protection when you have pulmonary hypertension.
  • Keep track of your weight. Quick weight gain is a sign of fluid buildup, which may mean that pulmonary hypertension is getting worse.

What you can do

Because pulmonary hypertension is a lifelong condition, get in the habit of taking your medication and following healthy lifestyle habits. Don't make any changes to your treatment routine without first checking with your doctor.

Take care of your mental health, too. Living with a chronic condition like pulmonary hypertension can be stressful and anxiety-producing. See a therapist, counselor, or other mental health provider for advice on how to cope.


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June 06, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O'Dell, RN