So, yesterday we covered what Pulmonary Hypertension is in itself. Now today we’re moving onto how we find PH, and who has it. If you missed yesterdays post, then click here to share or read it.
So, since Pulmonary Hypertension is happening in the lungs itself affecting the heart and internal organs, it’s not affecting much of what happens on the outside of this person. In fact, most Pulmonary Hypertension patients are young; kids, babies, teenagers, young adults, you name it. Anyone could be born with Pulmonary Hypertension. Basically, Pulmonary Hypertension hides behind a mask of youth, or “normal.”
Someone may be born with Pulmonary Hypertension, and take years to finally show it. They could be like me, attending public school, participating in physical activities, then one day feel a very unusual and horrid pain all over, and lose consciousness. Most people would either ignore it, or think they had an asthma attack. Even if this young patient was attended to by medical care in a hospital, or doctors office they would never do an EKG (checking heart rhythms) an oxygen test, or chest x-ray…why? Because why in the world would we check a very young person’s heart when they just got tired, and collapsed? When people ask why we collapsed, we tend to only be able to answer that we couldn’t breathe. People generalize those symptoms down into something like asthma. PH doesn’t have a disease appearance because it’s all internal therefore just about every person does not take the person’s symptoms seriously. A PH patient begins to think they might be crazy, are out of shape, and need to learn to keep up. Maybe they’re told that they have an anxiety disorder, or something. Basically, it is very very very rare for anyone to listen to someone suffering from PH because they can’t “see it.”
So what happens after being ignored for so long? The pressure in the heart, and lungs begins to mount and the patient begins to get worse. Not being able to walk, fainting with any physical exertion, and the downfall of their quality of life. Yes, this will even happen to kids. Pulmonary Hypertension patients can die at any time for a variety of things; blood clots, an arteries bursting, their heart rhythm becoming too chaotic, and finally their heart just stopping. If a PH patient is not taken seriously by medical professionals in time, their chances of dying increase every day.
So what happens when a patient is actually taken seriously, and what does it take for a doctor to find PH? An EKG, and a simple oxygen saturation test should at least show some concern with a weird rhythm presenting a conduction delay, or showing the right side of the heart is working too hard. The oxygen levels should also be low. A chest x-ray, or echo should show that the heart is over sized which a normal physician would immediately want a heart catheterization done. A heart catheterization is where they insert a catheter in the femoral artery (or a vein in the neck) and move it all the way into the heart. From there using fluoroscopy (a moving xray) they can view the actual heart itself to make sure it was formed right. Then they can measure the pressures, and actually see how the heart is pumping so they get an idea of what is wrong. If the heart is formed normally, but is still working so hard to the point of failure then that tells the doctor that the pressure is coming from the lungs…Pulmonary Hypertension.
At this point the doctor would finish the surgery, and would contact the closest Pulmonary Hypertension Specialist, or Pulmonologist to start treating the patient immediately. Depending on how high pressures are, and what shape the patient’s organs are in, the doctor would now notify the family of the terminal diagnosis, and then the patient with a very grim life expectancy.
What now? Tomorrow we will dive into treatment.