Does Pulmonary Hypertension Cause Shortness of Breath?

Pulmonary hypertension is a serious condition that can affect your quality of life. What is this lung condition, and how does it affect your body? 

Today, Carda is here to discuss the causes, symptoms, and management practices for pulmonary hypertension. We will focus on shortness of breath as one of the hallmark symptoms of this condition and go over how you can tell if your shortness of breath might be due to pulmonary hypertension. Read on to support your overall heart and lung health. 

What Is Pulmonary Hypertension?

Pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure) is a medical condition that affects your heart and lungs. The condition results from high blood pressure that specifically impacts the lung arteries, which in turn impacts the right side of your heart muscle. 

Pulmonary hypertension can present in a couple of different ways, as there are several different types of pulmonary hypertension. With pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) the lung blood vessels incur damage, such that they become narrow or blocked. The damage reduces the amount of blood that can pass through the lungs, which can result in higher lung artery blood pressure and can sometimes even eradicate lung arteries. 

What Causes Pulmonary Hypertension?

Risk factors or causes of pulmonary hypertension can include an underlying condition that affects the lungs, such as emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a connective tissue disease, a pulmonary embolism, or other lung diseases. 

Other medical conditions — such as a disease that affects the left side of the heart, a congenital heart disease, connective tissue diseases, pulmonary embolism, or chronic blood clots — are also risk factors for pulmonary hypertension. A family history of pulmonary disease or hypertension can place you at a higher risk of developing this condition. 

Does Pulmonary Hypertension Always Cause Symptoms?

This heart and lung condition does not always cause symptoms because its disease progression is very gradual. In the beginning stages of pulmonary hypertension, a person could go for months, a year, or even a decade, without experiencing any symptoms. 

However, as this condition slowly worsens over time, symptoms can start to appear. They might initially be mild but can worsen over time to become life-threatening. In severe cases, pulmonary hypertension can lead to heart disease and sometimes even heart failure. 

What Are Some Possible Symptoms of Pulmonary Hypertension?

Pulmonary hypertension results in reduced blood flow throughout the lung muscles. Without enough circulation, a person can experience many signs and symptoms that indicate high blood pressure in their lung arteries. 

Possible symptoms of pulmonary hypertension include:

  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Disorientation
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • A racing heartbeat
  • Heart palpitations
  • Blue lips
  • Blue skin
  • Swelling or edema of the extremities (particularly of the legs, ankles, or abdominal area)
  • Chest pain or discomfort 

How Does Pulmonary Hypertension Impact Breathing?

Pulmonary hypertension leads to reduced blood flow through the lung arteries. Without adequate circulation and blood supply, the lung tissues cannot function optimally, which can decrease lung capacity and function. This can make breathing more difficult and diminish the oxygen your lungs receive when inhaling. 

Can Pulmonary Hypertension Cause Shortness of Breath?

Yes, pulmonary hypertension can cause shortness of breath, also known as dyspnea. Shortness of breath for this condition results from inadequate blood supply to the lungs, which can, in turn, diminish their ability to operate at full capacity. 

Although a person can have pulmonary hypertension for a long time without experiencing symptoms, shortness of breath during physical exertion is often the first warning sign to present as a symptom of this lung condition. 

Reduced pulmonary circulation and diminished lung capacity may also make it harder to breathe. You might find that you take shallow, more frequent breaths to get enough air. Additionally, you could experience trouble getting enough air, even when you draw in long, deep inhales. 

How Can You Tell If Your Shortness of Breath Is Caused By Pulmonary Hypertension?

Shortness of breath can have a lot of different causes, so it can be hard to determine whether your dyspnea is due to pulmonary hypertension or another underlying cause. However, pulmonary hypertension usually presents with other symptoms that can appear gradually alongside shortness of breath. 

Additional symptoms of pulmonary hypertension that can often appear alongside shortness of breath include chest pain, heart palpitations, fatigue, dizziness, and weakness. If you experience any of these symptoms alone or in combination at the same time period that you experience shortness of breath, then your experience could be a warning sign for pulmonary hypertension.

When Should You Consult Your Doctor About Shortness of Breath?

Anytime you experience shortness of breath that does not go away, you should talk to your healthcare provider. For example, if you notice that you’re starting to experience shortness of breath during physical activity that does not go away while resting, consult your healthcare provider. 

You should also consult your healthcare provider if shortness of breath presents while you are at rest or doing very mild activities that ordinarily would not leave you feeling short of breath. 

When you experience shortness of breath, keep a journal that records your experiences. If you can, note what you are doing when this symptom comes on, as well as how long it lasts, how you are feeling, how often this happens, and if any other symptoms coincide with this feeling. This will help your healthcare provider in diagnosing or ruling out pulmonary hypertension. 

They may also order laboratories and other screening tests to rule out a diagnosis. These tests can include:

  • Electrocardiograms (EKGs)
  • Echocardiograms (ECGs)
  • Chest X-rays
  • Computed tomography (CT) scans
  • MRIs
  • Pulmonary function tests
  • Various blood tests 

If you experience shortness of breath that coincides with fainting, chest pain, or dizziness and confusion, you should treat this as a medical emergency. 

How Can You Manage Pulmonary Hypertension?

There are several ways you can manage pulmonary hypertension, most of which can be from the comfort of your home. Exercise, medication, stress management, and oxygen therapy are all management options that address a pulmonary hypertension diagnosis. Let's take a look at each of these options in more detail below. 


Staying physically active is a great way to support your lung and heart health and can help manage a pulmonary hypertension diagnosis. Exercise has many benefits for someone with pulmonary hypertension — it can help increase blood flow in your arteries, strengthen your lung capacity and heart muscle performance, and help you breathe more easily. 

Because pulmonary hypertension often involves feeling short of breath, it may be difficult or even scary to try to get physically active. After all, increasing movement in your body makes your muscles work harder, which requires that both your heart and lungs also work harder to give you enough oxygen and to give your body enough blood circulation. However, there are ways to safely exercise with pulmonary hypertension. 

A good way to start is by speaking with your healthcare provider about a safe exercise plan and routine that considers your pulmonary diagnosis. They may suggest starting out very gradually, with short, slow walks several times a week, before working up to staying active more often. 

Additionally, your healthcare provider may refer you to a cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation program, where you can participate in guided exercise routines wherein an expert exercise physiologist closely monitors your vitals throughout your workout. If you want a rehabilitation program to help you safely exercise with pulmonary hypertension, consider Carda for a fully virtual rehab option

Virtual rehab is less expensive and can be more effective than in-person rehab. Plus, virtual rehab can feel more empathetic and more comfortable with no transportation logistics and the ability to work with the same provider every session. Get started today with a referral from your provider, and fill out our easy online form to be matched with an expert exercise physiologist. 


While medication cannot treat pulmonary hypertension, there are many different options that can help manage this condition and slow disease progression. Your doctor will likely prescribe medications that dilate your blood vessels (vasodilators) as well as other medications that widen your blood vessels. 

Vasodilator medications can help relax your blood vessels to enhance blood flow so that they can open up if they are narrow. There are also endothelin receptor antagonist medications, which target and reverse a substance's ability in your blood vessel walls that would narrow your blood vessels without inhibition. 

Phosphodiesterase 5 (PDE5) inhibitor medications are another option that can help enhance blood flow in your lungs. Additionally, your doctor may put you on water pills, also known as diuretics, to help relieve other symptoms that can present with this condition, like fluid retention. 

Stress Management

Managing your stress can help lower your heart rate and your respiratory rate to relieve symptoms of pulmonary hypertension. Stress management involves doing the things you love and making time for self-care throughout your day. 

Each day, try to engage in activities you love, such as connecting with family or friends or doing your favorite hobby. A stress relief practice such as deep breathing techniques or meditation can also help make you feel calmer. 

Oxygen Therapy

Oxygen therapy can help relieve shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. This management practice supplies you with supplemental oxygen levels using a device and nasal prongs or a face mask. 

You can receive oxygen therapy in the hospital; however, most pulmonary patients who need oxygen therapy require a continuous supply and instead receive their supply from the comfort of their own homes. People at high altitudes, or people who experience sleep apnea, often require supplemental oxygen continuously.

The Bottom Line

Pulmonary hypertension is a serious lung condition that results from high blood pressure in the lung arteries. While a person can have pulmonary hypertension for years without experiencing any symptoms, shortness of breath is often the first warning sign to show up before the disease begins to worsen. 

There is no treatment for pulmonary hypertension. However, there are fortunately many management strategies that can give a person a positive outlook with this diagnosis. Management practices for pulmonary hypertension include lifestyle changes such as exercise and stress management, medication, and sometimes oxygen therapy. 

Talk to your healthcare provider to make the most out of your condition management and to support your overall heart and lung function. 


Pulmonary hypertension - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic

Pulmonary hypertension - Diagnosis and treatment | Mayo Clinic

Oxygen Therapy | American Lung Association

Pulmonary Hypertension - High Blood Pressure in the Heart-to-Lung System | American Heart Association (AHA)

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