November is Pulmonary Hypertension Month
December 07, 2018
Huron, S.D. – November is Pulmonary Hypertension Awareness Month, recognized each year to draw attention to this progressive lung disease that is often misdiagnosed and can cause right heart failure and death, according to Cindy Thomas, RN, a cardiac rehabilitation nurse with Huron Regional Medical Center.
“PAH is a disease of the vessels that carry blood from the heart to the lungs – causing a constant state of high blood pressure in the vessels of the lungs,” explained Thomas, who also leads HRMC’s PAH support group. “While the disease is not common, it does effect people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds and early diagnosis and learning as much as you can about the disease is key to coping with the challenges.”
According to the Pulmonary Hypertension Association, PAH affects 25 million adults and children worldwide; more than 12,000 persons in the U.S. are diagnosed and getting care, while many more people are undiagnosed. While PH is incurable, early diagnosis and proper treatment can extend and improve a patient’s quality of life.
PAH can result from the vessels in the lungs becoming damaged, narrowed or stiffened, forcing the right side of the heart to pump extra hard. “When these vessels are normal blood can pass easily from the pulmonary arteries to the lungs, ultimately moving oxygen-rich blood out to the rest of the body,” said Thomas. “PAH causes the right heart muscle to work harder and as it works harder it grows thicker and begins to press against the left side of the heart. This makes the left side less able to function and circulate blood throughout the rest of the body.”
PAH can occur without a known cause, but, sometimes it is known to run in a family, according to Thomas. Other causes include drugs, toxins, certain diseases (like scleroderma) or certain defects of the heart. Symptoms are not necessarily specific to PAH, but include shortness of breath, fatigue and chest pain. Consequently, people with the disease can go months, sometimes years, believing they have other more common illnesses, such as asthma.
“Living with PAH can be overwhelming when first diagnosed. Proper nutrition and maintaining activity are key – but listening to your body and avoiding rigorous activities are also important,” Thomas encouraged. “Smoking causes more shortness of breath and causes narrowing of blood vessel, so patients should look for help in quitting.”
Thomas also encourages PAH patients to think positive, make the most of their treatment and get involved in a support group. HRMC’s PAH support group provides support and education for patients and family members and typically meets the third Tuesday of the month at 4 p.m. For more information, call the rehabilitation services at 605-353-6531. More information about PAH diagnosis and treatment is available online at www.phassociation.org/therightheart.
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