Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) generally results in the heart weakening from the strain of pumping blood through narrowed pulmonary arteries, resulting in reduced oxygen levels.
Fatigue is one of the earlier signs, along with dizziness and chest pain. The symptoms can progress to leg and ankle swelling, shortness of breath during physical exertion, lightheadedness when exercising, weakness, and even fainting spells.
Because these symptoms are similar to other conditions, PAH is often misdiagnosed as diseases like left heart failure, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, or coronary disease. It is important to get a valid diagnosis for this serious condition as it drastically shortens life span and requires treatment in order to prolong and improve the life of the patient.
The physician will diagnose the level of severity of PAH based on a class system. Class I means that the patient is in the earlier stages, with no resting symptoms and only milder symptoms upon physical exertion. Class II describes a patient who still has no resting symptoms, but activities are mildly limited by the symptoms that occur with exertion.
Class III involves marked limitations on activity levels of the patient with even low-stress activities bringing on symptoms. However, the patient is still comfortable when resting. In Class IV, the patient has symptoms even at rest and is unable to exert himself or herself for any physical activity.
Treatments of PAH may include medications like endothelin receptor antagonists to reduce the levels of endetholin in the circulatory system, which impacts blood flow and cell growth in the blood vessels. Another treatment method is oxygen therapy to help relieve shortness of breath. Calcium channel blockers help open the pulmonary arteries. Anticoagulants prevent blood clots. Diuretics reduce the volume of blood the heart must pump. Other drugs are also prescribed depending on the patient’s manifestation of the condition.
Surgical procedures, lifestyle changes, and other options may be recommended. The primary goals of treatment are to reduce strain on the heart, improve circulation, and maintain proper oxygen levels in the patient. These treatments slow the progression of the disease, allowing the patient to enjoy a longer and more fulfilling life.
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