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Cor Pulmonale


Updated August 24, 2008

Definition: Cor pulmonale is a complication of emphysema and is caused by an increase in blood pressure in the pulmonary artery, the vessel that carries blood from the heart to the lungs. This leads to right heart enlargement and failure.


Under normal circumstances, the left side of the heart is responsible for producing a higher blood pressure in an effort to pump blood to the rest of the body. The right side of the heart assumes the role of pumping blood through the lungs, thus requires a much lower pressure to do its job.

Any condition that leads to pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure within the blood vessels of the lungs, can put a strain on the right side of the heart causing an inability for it to properly pump against the abnormally high pressures. This is called cor pulmonale.

Just about any chronic lung disease can lead to cor pulmonale. The following lists a number of these causes:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Central sleep apnea
  • Mountain sickness
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Primary pulmonary hypertension
  • Pneumoconiosis
  • Interstitial lung disease
  • Chronic thromboembolic pulmonary disease
  • Pulmonary vascular disease
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Symptoms

    Symptoms of cor pulmonale include congestion, leg swelling, distended neck veins, and/or pain.

Also Known As: Right-sided heart failure

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