When people think of hypertension, they probably think of it as simple high blood pressure — but there are actually two distinct types of high blood pressure. These are systemic hypertension and pulmonary hypertension.
While they are different, if either kind of hypertension is left untreated, it can drastically increase your chances of developing more severe conditions like heart failure.
Pulmonary hypertension is a chronic, incurable, and progressive disorder that can contribute to heart failure. Early interventions, however, can help to slow its progression and make the symptoms more manageable. Below is a closer look at pulmonary hypertension, how it is treated, and lifestyle changes you can make to better support your cardiovascular health.
Hypertension is characterized by higher-than-normal blood pressure within the body. Every time the heart contracts, it increases the pressure exerted on the veins and arteries of the body, also called systolic blood pressure. The pressure exerted on arteries when the heart is in between beats is referred to as diastolic.
There are two distinct pathways of blood throughout the body — the pulmonary and systemic circuits.
The systemic circuit consists of the blood that is pumped out of the left ventricle, through the aorta, and through the rest of the body. The pulmonary circuit begins with the right ventricle and takes blood through the lungs to infuse it with oxygen before it travels to the rest of the body.
Pulmonary hypertension occurs when blood pressure is increased in the pulmonary circuit. This can be caused by many different things, but it tends to accompany increased resistance of blood through the lungs.
Lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, and other lung issues like pulmonary blood clots and embolisms can contribute to increased pressure through the pulmonary circuit.
Pulmonary arterial hypertension and increased resistance through the lungs can be damaging to your body, particularly your heart. With increased resistance, the right ventricle must work harder to pump blood through the lungs.
Over time, this can cause the right side of the heart to become enlarged, resulting in a specific type of right-sided heart failure referred to as cor pulmonale.
As stated previously, there is no direct cure for pulmonary hypertension. Still, there are treatment options to reduce the symptoms and the impacts of pulmonary hypertension on the body. Below is a closer look at three potential ways that your healthcare team can help.
Diuretics are medications that are given to increase urine production. Diuretics work by telling the kidneys to increase fluid expulsion.
Increasing the amount of water that is expelled from the body can help to alleviate fluid buildup within the body and the lungs. Reducing fluid buildup and volume can help take some of the strain off of the heart.
Vasodilators are a group of medications that cause the blood vessels in your body to relax, a process also known as vasodilation. When these vessels relax, they essentially open up more room for blood to flow, which can help to decrease resistance.
Vasodilators can be particularly helpful in the management of pulmonary hypertension, as they can make it easier for the heart to pump blood through the pulmonary circuit and provide more normalized blood flow.
Pulmonary hypertension and its associated diseases can greatly impact the efficiency of the gas exchange that occurs in the lungs.
When the lungs are unable to effectively release carbon dioxide and take in oxygen, this can lead to poor oxygenation of the blood and poor perfusion of oxygen to the body. Poor oxygenation is the reason why fatigue, cyanosis, dizziness, fainting, and shortness of breath are common symptoms of pulmonary hypertension.
One way to help combat these symptoms is to provide individuals with supplemental oxygen. By providing air that has a higher percentage of oxygen than room air, the lungs can more properly maintain good blood oxygen levels. This can significantly alleviate the symptoms of pulmonary hypertension.
Pulmonary hypertension can benefit from medications and medical interventions, but it can also benefit significantly from making positive lifestyle choices. Below is a closer look at some of the changes you can make to your everyday life to better support your cardiovascular health.
Exercise can play a major role in maintaining good health overall, but it can also be especially helpful to begin implementing it if you have cardiovascular-related disorders like pulmonary hypertension, heart failure, high cholesterol, or heart disease. Exercise can be an effective and natural way to manage these conditions for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, exercise can allow you to build cardiovascular endurance. Exercises like walking, cycling, or swimming place a good amount of strain on your cardiovascular system.
When performed on a regular basis, your body can eventually adapt to the increased bodily demand, which can make doing everyday tasks a little easier. This can help you to not feel fatigued or out of breath when doing everyday activities.
Secondly, exercise can help you to lose weight and manage high cholesterol. Medications like warfarin do work extremely well in managing high cholesterol, but exercise is often a great practice to complement any cholesterol-lowering medication.
Lastly, exercise can help improve your quality of life by supporting muscle tone and acting as a means of stress relief. When you exercise, you place a therapeutic amount of strain on your muscles, which can help to maintain muscle tone and retain mobility.
Exercising can also act as a means of reducing cortisol, which can have detrimental impacts on your overall quality of life and heart health if its levels are too high.
Salt plays an important role in the body, but too much can contribute to hypertension. When there’s too much salt in the body, it can reduce urinary output. This can subsequently increase fluid volume in your circulatory system, which can both lead to hypertension and worsen current symptoms of pulmonary hypertension.
Reducing your salt intake can help to better support your heart. Taking small steps like avoiding heavily processed foods, foods with added salt, and opting for low-sodium options whenever possible can help you better support your heart.
Stimulants are chemicals that can have a direct impact on the nervous system. Stimulants include chemicals like caffeine and nicotine, and they work by activating the sympathetic nervous system.
The activation of the sympathetic nervous system causes a number of changes to occur within the body, including an increase in blood pressure and heart rate.
If you have pulmonary hypertension or any other cardiovascular issue, it may be a good idea to try and avoid these chemicals. Avoiding nicotine and smoking, in particular, can have a profound impact on your lung and heart health. If you smoke, quitting is one of the most important steps you can take to improve your overall health and manage your condition.
The food you eat on a consistent basis plays a very important role in your overall health. A heart-healthy diet can help to lower cholesterol, reduce high blood pressure, and enable your heart to work as effectively as possible. A heart-healthy diet should aim to include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
Making lifestyle changes to support pulmonary hypertension is not an easy feat, and this is where cardiac rehab can be immensely helpful. Cardiac rehab is a program that can help people recover from cardiovascular problems and improve their overall heart health.
A Cardiac rehab program typically involves tailored monitored exercise, health education, nutritional education, and support from healthcare professionals like exercise physiologists.
Carda Health is a virtual cardiac rehab provider that can help you make lasting lifestyle changes in the comforts of your own home. If your physician thinks you may benefit from cardiac rehab, Carda Health is an excellent at-home solution.
At the end of the day, pulmonary hypertension cannot be cured or reversed, but there are things you can do to help slow its progression and help manage symptoms. Pairing medical treatment prescribed by your doctor with positive lifestyle modifications can help manage the symptoms of pulmonary hypertension and reduce the risk of further disease progression.