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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.
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.
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 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)
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:
- Rehabilitation specialists
- Pulmonary hypertension nurses
- Social workers
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.
Our Care Team
- Heart and Vascular
- Heart and Vascular
- Heart and Vascular
Locations and Offices
UI Heart and Vascular Center
Davenport - East Rusholme Street
Des Moines-1215 Pleasant Street
The Iowa Pulmonary Hypertension Support Group is for anyone diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension (PH) and/or for their family or support persons. It is a great way to meet others with the same illness, and who are facing the same issues. Our group is for anyone in the Iowa and surrounding areas, no matter where they receive their PH care.
Meetings usually begin with a lunch and follow with discussion on PH topics. Invitations can be mailed or emailed to you or your family.
If you are interested in receiving invitations to meetings, your name must be added to our members list. Members will receive newsletters, updates on PH awareness, and group announcements. For more information on pulmonary hypertension at University of Iowa Health Care, please read more about our Pulmonary Hypertension Program.
If you would like to receive more information or become a member, discuss this with your PH nurse.