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What is Pulmonary Hypertension?


Updated September 26, 2013

Pulmonary Hypertension

Pulmonary Hypertension

Definition: Pulmonary hypertension, one of the complications of COPD, occurs when there is abnormally high pressure within the blood vessels of the lungs. Normally, blood that flows through these vessels meets little resistance, as they naturally widen to allow blood from the heart to pass through smoothly to pick up oxygen and deliver it to the body.

In pulmonary hypertension, the blood vessels constrict, becoming narrow and thick. This means less blood is able to flow through the blood vessels. When this happens, pressure within the vessels builds up and the heart muscle must work harder to force the blood through. When the pressure becomes too high, the heart can't keep up and less blood is circulated through the lungs. This results in less oxygen to the entire body.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Shortness of breath at first with activity and eventually at rest
  • Chest pain
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Fainting or near-fainting
  • Swelling of the legs
  • Dizziness

To find out more about signs and symptoms of pulmonary hypertension, visit About.com's Symptom Checker, an interactive tool to help you learn more about your symptoms.

Two Types

There are two forms of pulmonary hypertension: primary and secondary. Primary pulmonary hypertension is uncommon and the exact cause is unknown. A diagnosis is made when all other causes have been ruled out.

Secondary pulmonary hypertension occurs far more frequently and is caused by the presence of an existing heart or lung disease, with COPD topping the list of most common causes.


A diagnosis is made the following ways:


American Heart Association. 2008.

Also Known As: pulmonary arterial hypertension, primary pulmonary hypertension, PPH, secondary pulmonary hypertension
Common Misspellings: pulmonary hypertention, pulmonery hypertension
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