Pulmonary Hypertension


  • Mean pulmonary artery pressure of ≥25mmHg at rest (measured by right heart catheterisation)
    • Usually with a normal pulmonary artery occlusion (or wedge) pressure (>15mmHg excludes raised pulmonary pressure due to left ventricular failure (a common cause of pulmonary hypertension)
    • Other measurements include the transpulmonary pressure gradient (TPG= PAP-PWP; if >12mmHg, this is suggestive of intrinsic pulmonary disease regardless of a raised PWP)
  • Pulmonary Hypertension can be classified as
    • Arterial hypertension
      • Primary (sporadic and familial)- see below
      • Secondary
        • e.g. in connective tissue disease (e.g. limited cutaneous systemic sclerosis; CREST)
        • Congenital (pulmonary shunt systems)
        • Portal hypertension
        • Infection e.g. HIV
        • Drug/toxins
    • Venous
      • Left sided heart disease/failure (including valvular disease)
      • Pulmonary veno-occlusive disease (e.g. chronic/recurrent PE)
    • PH due to lung disease (most common)
      • e.g. COPD, diffuse parenchymal lung disease etc

Primary Pulmonary Hypertension


  • Very rare (2-6/1000,000); predominantly young females (20-30 years old)
    • Most cases seem to be sporadic but (even rarer) familial forms occur (mutations of TGFβ receptor)


  • Hypertrophy of the vessel wall media/intima, with hyperplasia of endothelial cells (appear as ‘plexiform’ lesions)
    • causes narrowing of the vessel lumen and predisposition to thrombosis; increased vascular resistance and pulmonary hypertension


  • Often presents with insidious onset breathlessness, chest pain, fatigue, palpitation and syncope
    • Can present very late
  • Signs include elevated JVP (may also have a prominent a-wave); parasternal heave (right ventricular hypertrophy); loud pulmonary component of the second heart sound and/or third heart sound
    • It is important to look for signs of an underlying cause (secondary PH) e.g. interstitial lung disease; liver failure; connective tissue disease etc


  • ECG can show right heart strain pattern (ST depression/T wave inversion in the right leads (V1-3/4 and II, III and avF))
  • CXR may show enlarged pulmonary arteries and right ventricular enlargement
  • Doppler Echocardiography can provide an estimate of pulmonary pressures although further assessment with right heart catheterisation is often required to guide further therapy.


  • Symptomatic/Prophylaxis
    • Diuretic therapy (for right heart failure)
    • Oxygen therapy for patients with chronic hypoxaemia
    • Anticoagulation (warfarin or oral anticoagulation) unless there is a risk of bleeding
    • Vaccination against pneumococcus/influenza
  • Treatments
    • Pharmacological
      • High dose calcium channel blockers
      • Prostaglandins e.g. epoprostenol (prostacyclin) or iloprost
      • PDE5 inhibitors e.g. sildenafil
    • Heart-lung transplantation/pulmonary thrombo-endarterectomy in patients with chronic proximal thromboembolic disease

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