Pulmonary Hypertension

While there is no cure for pulmonary hypertension, there are more treatment options than ever before. The University of Iowa Heart and Vascular Center offers all of those options. We also offer clinical trials of potential new treatments.

Our pulmonary hypertension team is dedicated to helping you feel better and live the life you want.

Pulmonary hypertension symptoms and diagnosis

Pulmonary hypertension—high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs—is hard to diagnose. It’s not usually found in a routine physical exam, and its symptoms are often similar to those of other conditions. These symptoms include:

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Fainting or almost fainting (syncope)
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath with activity or at rest
  • Swelling in the ankles, legs, or belly

The sooner you’re diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, the more effective treatment is likely to be. That’s why you should make an appointment with your primary care provider (PCP) right way if you have symptoms.

Your PCP can order tests that look for certain signs of pulmonary hypertension. If your test results show these signs, your PCP can refer you to the UI Heart and Vascular Center for further testing, an official diagnosis, or treatment.

Diagnosing pulmonary hypertension

Some types of pulmonary hypertension are caused by other medical conditions. Others are related to a gene mutation or use of prescription or illegal drugs. And in some cases, the cause isn’t known.

The main types of pulmonary hypertension are classified into five groups:

  • Pulmonary arterial hypertension, also known as PAH
  • Pulmonary hypertension caused by problems with the left side of the heart
  • Pulmonary hypertension caused by lung disorders such as interstitial lung disease (ILD)
  • Chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension (CTEPH), a condition that causes chronic blood clots to block the major pulmonary arteries
  • Pulmonary hypertension trigged by blood disorders, inflammatory disorders, or other underlying conditions

Treatment for pulmonary hypertension depends on its cause. An accurate diagnosis helps to improve your symptoms and quality of life. UI Heart and Vascular Center specialists have the training and tools necessary to identify what type of pulmonary hypertension you have and recommend the most effective treatment options for you.

We also have partnerships with the few medical centers in the country that can treat CTEPH with surgery. If you’re diagnosed with this condition, we’ll help you get the care you need to treat or even cure it.

Pulmonary hypertension treatment at the UI Heart and Vascular Center

The right treatment for you will depend on:

  • The severity of your symptoms
  • Whether you have other conditions, such as heart disease, that cause pulmonary hypertension or make it worse
  • Your goals and preferences for treatment

Our team will work closely with you to create a treatment plan tailored to your needs. It will include one or more of the following:

Lifestyle changes and education

Lifestyle habits can help you manage your symptoms. For example, keeping track of your weight and your sodium intake can help with swelling and other symptoms. Conserving energy and avoiding stress can help with symptoms like fatigue.

Our team will help you learn how to prevent symptoms when possible and manage them when they appear. That includes helping you decide how to safely exercise or travel by air, which can be risky for some people with pulmonary hypertension.

We may also prescribe pulmonary rehabilitation or cardiac rehabilitation. These can improve your heart and lung health and help you exercise more safely.


Depending on what’s causing your pulmonary hypertension, medications can ease and sometimes dramatically reduce symptoms. These include:

  • Oral medications: Some drugs help your blood vessels relax. Others open them or prevent them from narrowing.
  • Inhaled medications: This type of medicine, which you breathe in, helps relieve shortness of breath.
  • Infusions: These medicines are given through an IV or portable infusion pump. They can help open your blood vessels and ease symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath.

Oxygen therapy

If you have shortness of breath or fatigue because of low oxygen levels in the blood, oxygen therapy might help.

When you’re on oxygen therapy, you’ll get extra oxygen through a face mask or a lightweight tube in your nose. The tube or mask will be connected to an oxygen tank or an oxygen concentrator, a portable device that takes extra oxygen from the air.

Clinical trials

You may benefit from clinical trials for potential new treatments. Our doctors are also pulmonary hypertension researchers, and they are always involved in clinical trials.

Lung transplant

Lung transplantation may be an option if your pulmonary hypertension is severe and doesn’t improve with other treatments. UI Health Care has an expert team of lung transplant surgeons.

Support for people with pulmonary hypertension

Our support for you goes beyond medical treatment. We also help with other difficulties that sometimes come with having pulmonary hypertension.

Help with insurance and paperwork

Our team can help with administrative tasks and paperwork you may need to complete, including:

  • Getting oxygen equipment
  • Providing referrals for patient assistance and copay assistance for prescriptions
  • Giving you any documents your employer may need
  • Making sure you have letters for travel (such as letters requesting permission to fly with oxygen or medical equipment)

Pulmonary hypertension support group

Members of the UI Health Care pulmonary hypertension team host the Iowa Pulmonary Hypertension Support Group.

Email traci-stewart@uiowa.edu to request the dates of upcoming meetings or to join our mailing list.

A team approach

Because pulmonary hypertension affects your lungs, your heart, and your everyday life, you need a team equipped to help with all of the above. To ensure that we meet all of your needs, our team includes a range of specialists:

We collaborate with each other, with you, and with your other health care providers. This ensures that you have a single treatment plan informed by multiple kinds of expertise.

Here for you, 24/7

You will always be able to contact a team member—24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

We encourage you to call whenever your symptoms seem to be getting worse. We can work to solve the problem quickly and help you avoid a trip to the hospital whenever possible.

Do you have pulmonary hypertension symptoms?

If you have symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain or pressure, or fainting, call UI Health Care. The sooner you get a diagnosis, the sooner you can start feeling better.

The only center of comprehensive care in Iowa

PHCC logoOur pulmonary hypertension program is accredited by the Pulmonary Hypertension Association as a Center of Comprehensive Care. We are the only program in Iowa with this designation.

Care Team