Pulmonary Hypertension

Comprehensive Care to Diagnose and Treat Pulmonary Hypertension

Loyola Medicine provides comprehensive, multidisciplinary care for pulmonary hypertension. If you or a loved one is concerned that recent symptoms are due to pulmonary hypertension, you want an accurate diagnosis as quickly as possible. Our dedicated team will determine what is causing your symptoms and deliver the highest quality of care. 

Loyola’s pulmonologists are leaders in their field, providing the most advanced medical and surgical treatments for patients with pulmonary hypertension. If medical treatments have failed, your pulmonologist may ultimately determine that your best medical treatment option is a lung transplant. In this case, your pulmonology team will work seamlessly with Loyola’s Transplant Center to provide you the most advanced care in a collaborative setting.

Why Choose Loyola for Pulmonary Hypertension Treatment?

Loyola’s pulmonologists have a reputation for treating the most acute cases of lung disease and pulmonary hypertension. As faculty at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, our pulmonologists perform and teach the latest surgical techniques and medical treatments. In addition, our skilled and compassionate nurse coordinators work closely with patients, providing support and answering your questions—not only before treatment, but afterward as well. 

If your pulmonologist determines that lung transplant is the best option for you, Loyola’s transplant surgeons are highly skilled in minimally invasive surgical approaches. Your pulmonology team will work seamlessly with Loyola’s Transplant Center to provide you the most advanced care in a collaborative setting. 

According to the International Society for Heart & Lung Transplantation, Loyola’s lung transplant program is among the top 15 percent in the world with regard to volume, which leads to better outcomes. Our one-month and three-year patient survival rates are better than the national average, as are our one-month and three-year graft survival rates.

What is Pulmonary Hypertension?

Pulmonary hypertension is the buildup of blood pressure in the artery from the heart’s right ventricle to the lungs. Blood is delivered to the lungs to pick up oxygen; it then returns to the left side of the heart and it is sent to the rest of the body. However, when blood vessels in the lungs become narrowed, they cannot deliver as much blood—and the pressure within the pulmonary artery increases. This causes the right ventricle of the heart to work more, which eventually thickens the walls of the heart, increases its size and leads to right-sided heart failure (cor pulmonale).

Women tend to develop pulmonary hypertension more often than men. Pulmonary hypertension patients are at greater risk of developing blood clots in lung arteries and capillaries, irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias) and bleeding in the lungs.

Often it takes time before the signs of pulmonary hypertension are noticeable. Symptoms include:

  • Abdominal swelling 
  • Bluish color in the skin or lips (cyanosis)
  • Chest pain
  • Chest pressure
  • Coughing up blood
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting spells
  • Fatigue
  • Heart palpitations
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath while exercising and at later stages during rest
  • Swollen ankles and legs

When there is no known cause for pulmonary hypertension, it is called idiopathic pulmonary hypertension (IPH). Patients with this disease may have genes that led to the development of IPH. If you have a family member who was known to have IPH, you should be tested for it.

Pulmonary hypertension that is triggered by another condition is called secondary pulmonary hypertension (SPH). Younger adults are more likely to have idiopathic pulmonary hypertension, while secondary pulmonary hypertension is more common in older adults. Some conditions that can lead to SPH include:

  • Autoimmune diseases, such as scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus erythematosus
  • Blood clots in the lungs (pulmonary embolism)
  • Chronically low levels of oxygen in the blood, such as when living at high altitudes
  • Congenital heart defects, such as Eisenmenger syndrome
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Emphysema
  • Heart failure
  • Heart valve diseases, such as aortic valve disease and mitral valve disease 
  • HIV infection
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Lung tumors
  • Obesity
  • Obstructive sleep apnea and other sleep disorders
  • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Reaction to some medicines, such as the diet drugs dexfenfluramine and phentermine
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Use of some stimulant drugs, such as cocaine​

How is Pulmonary Hypertension Diagnosed?

Loyola’s pulmonologists are highly skilled in diagnosing and treating idiopathic pulmonary hypertension and secondary pulmonary hypertension. To arrive at a diagnosis, your doctor will take a detailed personal and medical history and conduct a thorough physical exam. Your doctor may order tests which may include: 

  • Blood tests
  • Chest MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • Chest X-ray
  • CT scan (computed tomography) of the chest
  • Echocardiography
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG)
  • Polysomnogram
  • Pulmonary function test
  • Right-heart catheterization
  • Six-minute treadmill test
  • Ventilation perfusion test (VQ)

How is Pulmonary Hypertension Treated?

For patients with pulmonary hypertension, your Loyola medical team will first treat any underlying cause. But even when the primary condition is cured or under control, pulmonary hypertension may remain. 

The earlier pulmonary hypertension is diagnosed and treated, the easier it is to manage. Your Loyola pulmonologist will consider the following treatments to manage the symptoms of pulmonary hypertension:

  • Lung transplant or heart-lung transplant
  • Medications to reduce the amount of water in your body, prevent blood clots from forming, make the heart pump more blood, relax the blood vessels in your lungs or reduce excess cell growth in lung blood vessels
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Surgery to correct congenital defects, remove tumors or repair heart valves

Depending on the severity of your condition, your pulmonologist ultimately may suggest that a lung transplant or heart-lung transplant is your best medical option. Loyola has performed more than 825 lung and heart-lung transplant surgeries since 1988. Loyola’s lung transplant program is among the top 15 percent in the world in volume, which leads to better outcomes. Learn more about lung transplant at Loyola.

Your Loyola doctor also will ask you to make some lifestyle changes to improve your condition including:

  • Avoid living in high-altitude areas
  • Avoid salt in your diet
  • Do not lift anything more than 50 pounds
  • Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke
  • Eat a balanced diet and maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Make sure you get enough sleep 
  • Manage stress, with regular yoga classes, meditation or listening to music
  • Nap when feeling tired
  • Try to avoid activities that may trigger low blood pressure, such as sitting in hot tubs or taking hot yoga classes
  • Women should avoid becoming pregnant or using birth control pills; pregnancy can be life-threatening for people with pulmonary hypertension and birth control pills can trigger blood clots

Ongoing Research to Advance Pulmonary Hypertension Treatment

Loyola is conducting research today that will lead to the treatments of tomorrow. Our lung transplant program is the only one in the state of Illinois to receive funding from the National Institutes of Health for lung transplant research.

We have 19 research programs underway, including clinical trials for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, LAM, cellular mechanisms in acute lung injury, breathing control, respiratory muscle function, mechanisms of patient-ventilator interactions and the effect of alcohol on the lungs. Loyola’s program also has created a blood bank to assist with future research. 

Loyola patients will also be granted access to the latest medications and therapies through our clinical trials