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What is pulmonary hypertension (PH)?

Diagram of blood flow from heart to lungs

Diagram of blood flow from heart to lungs
PH is often due to narrowing and closing of some pulmonary arteries due to several abnormalities:
  • vasoconstriction (narrowing of pulmonary arteries due to spasm)
  • multiplication and growth of cells in the walls of pulmonary arteries 
  • microscopic (very small) blood clots in the pulmonary arteries
  • scar tissue formation in the pulmonary arteries

The average (mean) pressure within the pulmonary arteries (also known as mPAP) is normally 10-20 mmHg. PH is diagnosed when mPAP is higher than 20 mmHg.

PH will often put a strain on the right side of the heart, specifically the right ventricle (RV). If left untreated, PH can lead to RV failure, a serious type of heart failure.

It is vitally important that those who are at-risk of having PH or newly diagnosed get referred to a PH specialist for the best possible care and treatment.

What are the symptoms of PH?

  • Persistent or unexplained shortness of breath (especially upon exertion)
  • Fatigue/loss of energy
  • Swollen ankles and legs (also called edema)
  • Chest pain
  • Bluish lips, hands, and feet
  • Dizziness upon activity, including walking, climbing stairs
  • Fainting (also called syncope)

How is PH treated?

The treatment of PH is focused on lowering the pulmonary artery pressure (PAP = blood pressure in the blood vessels that carry blood to the lungs), and improving the RV-type of heart failure. PH-physicians prescribe the available medications alone or in combination to help alleviate the symptoms and slow the progression of PH and RV failure. Once a combination of treatments is no longer effective, lung transplantation may be considered.

You can find an overview of available treatments in Canada by visiting this page.

PHA Canada is committed to ensuring fair and equitable access to PH medications for all Canadians. To find out more about our work advocating on behalf of the PH community, visit our Advocacy page.

More about Treatment

Quick Facts

Many people with PH in Canada spend two to three years seeking an accurate diagnosis. Alarmingly, without treatment, the average life expectancy of a person with PH is less than three years.

No cure currently exists for PH, with the exception of CTEPH, which may be cured through surgery.

A number of treatments are approved in Canada to slow progression of PH and alleviate symptoms.

Centres specialized in the treatment of PH in adults and children are located throughout the country.

It is estimated that approximately 5,000 Canadians have been diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, but as many as 10,000 may be affected by the condition.

PH can strike anyone regardless of age, sex, or social/ethnic background.

PH is often an invisible illness; people who have PH may not look sick, even though they are.

PH has significant financial, social, and emotional impacts on patients and their families.