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When the diagnosis is pulmonary hypertension

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is caused by your heart working extra hard to push blood through your arteries. Pulmonary hypertension affects only those arteries that carry blood to your lungs.

There are two kinds of pulmonary hypertension. Secondary pulmonary hypertension is the most common type and is usually caused by an existing condition such as emphysema, bronchitis, lupus, congenital heart disease and blood clots in the pulmonary artery. When the condition’s cause is unknown, it’s called primary pulmonary hypertension, diagnosed in only about 300 people a year in the United States, mostly women between ages 21 and 40.

While pulmonary hypertension cannot be cured, it may be managed. Calcium channel blockers, drugs that relax the heart muscles, help up to half of patients. Others require drugs that open blood vessels. Anticoagulants, which help prevent clotting, is another alternative, as are diuretics, which decrease fluid in the body and cut down on the amount of work for the heart.

Lifestyle changes are also in order:

  • Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean meats and avoid high amounts of fat.
  • Exercise moderately as recommended by your doctor, but avoid isometric exercises such as weight lifting, which increases pulmonary artery pressure.
  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Stay away from locations with high altitudes—the lack of adequate oxygen will aggravate your symptoms.
  • Take proper safeguards when taking over-the-counter medication—always check with your doctor first.
  • Get adequate rest.
  • Discuss pregnancy with your doctor. The changes pregnancy imposes on your body may put your life at risk.

A diagnosis of pulmonary hypertension is serious, but more treatment choices exist today than ever before. Work with your doctor to find the therapy that’s best for you.