Pulmonary Hypertension Symptoms, Tests & Treatments | MedStar Health

A rare lung disorder that affects the arteries that carry blood to the lungs

Pulmonary hypertension occurs when the pulmonary arteries become narrowed. This makes it more difficult for blood to flow through the arteries, leading to high blood pressure in the lungs. This increased pressure puts strain on the right ventricle of the heart, causing it to expand in size and work too hard.

This chronic condition can cause shortness of breath during activity and, as it progresses, even at rest. If left untreated, it can lead to heart failure. Blood clots in the lungs can cause a form of pulmonary hypertension called chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension.

Treating pulmonary hypertension requires the expert care, disease management, and follow-up our specialists provide. Our Pulmonary Hypertension Clinic partners with the National Institutes of Health to provide access to advanced testing and clinical trials for this condition not available anywhere else. We’ll work with you to develop a treatment plan to lessen symptoms and improve your quality of life.


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What are the causes and symptoms of pulmonary hypertension?

A number of medical conditions can cause this condition, including heart valve disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), liver diseases, and rheumatic disorders. Living at high altitudes, obesity, and sleep apnea can also lead to the development of pulmonary hypertension. Other times, the cause may not be known.

Early on, you may not notice any symptoms. As the condition gets worse, symptoms such as these may make it difficult to participate in everyday activities:

  • Bluish lips and skin
  • Chest pain or pressure

  • Fatigue
  • Feeling faint or dizzy

  • Progressive shortness of breath
  • Swelling in the ankles and legs


Diagnosing pulmonary hypertension can be a challenge because it may be caused by many medical conditions. Your doctor will use a thorough physical exam and medical history to help rule out other problems and may then order a number of additional tests.

Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is a minimally invasive way to diagnose and treat a variety of heart and vascular conditions by guiding thin, flexible tubes called catheters through blood vessels to problem areas.

Chest X-ray

Chest x-rays use a small dose of radiation to create pictures of the structures inside the chest, including the lungs, heart, and chest wall.

Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan

The cardiac computed tomography scan, or cardiac CT, uses X-rays to create three-dimensional images of your heart and blood vessels.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An electrocardiogram, also known as an ECG, measures the heart’s electrical activity.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Magnetic resonance imaging, better known as cardiac MRI, is a combination of radio waves, magnets, and computer technology to create images of your heart and blood vessels.


If your condition is not advanced, we can help you manage the symptoms and slow the progress of the disease. Your treatment plan may include medications to allow better blood flow in the lungs’ arteries or lifestyle changes. In more serious cases, we may recommend surgical options, including a pulmonary thromboendarterectomy, lung transplant, or heart and lung transplant.

Heart Failure & Transplantation

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Have general questions for our heart and vascular program? Email us at AskMHVI@medstar.net. If you have clinically-specific questions, please contact your physician’s office.