Pulmonary hypertension is increased pressure in the pulmonary circulation. It has many secondary causes; when the cause is unknown it is called primary pulmonary hypertension (PPH). In PPH, pulmonary vessels become constricted, hypertrophied, and fibrosed. Pulmonary hypertension leads to right ventricular overload and failure. Symptoms are fatigue, exertional dyspnea, and, occasionally, chest discomfort and syncope. Diagnosis is by measuring pulmonary artery pressure. Treatment is with vasodilators and, in selected advanced cases, lung transplantation. Prognosis is poor overall if a treatable secondary cause is not found.
Although medical treatment can't cure pulmonary hypertension, it can lessen symptoms. You can also help improve the quality of your life by following these health measures:
* Get plenty of rest. Getting ample rest can help combat the fatigue that may accompany pulmonary hypertension.
* Follow a nutritious diet and maintain a healthy weight. Emphasize lean chicken, fish, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables. For the health of your heart, limit your intake of all types of fats to no more than 30 percent of your daily calories. Limit animal (saturated) and trans fats (hydrogenated oils) to 10 percent or less.
* Don't smoke. If you smoke, the single most important thing you can do for your heart and lung health is to stop. If you can't stop smoking by yourself, ask your doctor to prescribe a treatment plan to help you quit. Researchers don't yet know whether secondhand smoke — also known as passive or environmental smoke — plays a role in pulmonary hypertension. It is known, however, that exposure to environmental smoke can lead to a number of other health problems, including lung cancer and heart attack.
* Stay as active as possible. Even the mildest forms of activity may be too exhausting for some people with pulmonary hypertension. For others, moderate exercise such as walking may be of great benefit, and using oxygen during exercise may be especially helpful. Your doctor can help you plan an appropriate exercise program.
* Avoid becoming pregnant or using birth control pills. If you're a woman of childbearing age, avoid becoming pregnant. Pregnancy can be life-threatening for both you and your baby. Also avoid using birth control pills, which can increase your risk of blood clots. Talk to your doctor about alternative forms of birth control.
* Avoid traveling to or living at high altitudes. High altitudes can aggravate the symptoms of pulmonary hypertension. If you live at a high altitude, your doctor may advise you to move to a lower elevation.
* Find ways to reduce stress. These can range from yoga, meditation and biofeedback to warm baths, music or a good book. Try to allow at least 30 minutes a day for an activity you find relaxing. Many people with pulmonary hypertension find that simply reducing stress can greatly improve the quality of their lives.
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