Pulmonary Vascular Disease - Institute for Respiratory Health

Pulmonary Vascular Disease

What is pulmonary vascular disease

Pulmonary vascular disease encompasses the various conditions that affect the blood vessels along the route between the heart and the lungs.

Blood travels from the heart, to the lungs, and back to the heart. This process continually refills the blood with oxygen, and lets carbon dioxide be exhaled. Here’s how the process works:

  • Oxygen-poor blood returns from the body’s tissues through the veins back to the right side of the heart.
  • The right heart pumps oxygen-poor blood through the pulmonary arteries into the lungs. This blood becomes filled with oxygen.
  • The oxygen-rich blood returns from the lungs back to the left side of the heart. The left heart pumps the oxygen-rich blood into the body through the aorta and many other arteries.

Any part of the heart-lung blood circuit can become damaged or blocked, leading to pulmonary vascular disease.

The various different types of pulmonary vascular disease are as follows:

  • Pulmonary venous hypertension: increased blood pressure in the pulmonary veins
  • Pulmonary embolism: a blood clot breaks off from a deep vein
  • Chronic thromboembolic disease: a blood clot in the lungs
  • Pulmonary arterial hypertension: increased blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries

Symptoms of pulmonary vascular disease

The symptoms of pulmonary vascular disease vary according to several factors:

  • The suddenness of the process affecting the pulmonary blood vessels
  • Which pulmonary blood vessels are affected (where the pulmonary vascular disease is)
  • How much of the pulmonary vascular system is affected

For example, a sudden, large pulmonary embolism blocking a large pulmonary artery can cause severe shortness of breath and chest pain. But a very small pulmonary embolism (blocking only a small blood vessel) may cause no noticeable symptoms.

Although symptoms of pulmonary vascular disease can vary widely, each of the causes of pulmonary vascular disease has a set of usual symptoms:

Pulmonary arterial hypertension: This most often causes slowly progressive shortness of breath. As the condition worsens, chest pain or fainting (syncope) with exertion can occur.

Pulmonary embolism: A blood clot to the lungs typically occurs suddenly. Shortness of breath, chest pain (often worse with deep breaths), and a rapid heart rate are common symptoms. Pulmonary embolism symptoms range from barely noticeable to severe, based on the size of the blood clot(s).

Pulmonary venous hypertension: This form of pulmonary vascular disease also causes shortness of breath, due to the congestive heart failure that’s usually present. Shortness of breath may be worse while lying flat, when blood pressure is uncontrolled, or when extra fluid is present (edema).

Causes of pulmonary vascular disease

The causes of pulmonary vascular disease vary according to which of the lungs’ blood vessels are affected. Some causes may include:

  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Blood clot failing to get reabsorbed by the body
  • Breakage of a blood clot in the veins or arteries
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Damaged mitral valve in the heart
  • Lung disease

Pulmonary vascular disease treatments

There are many different treatments for pulmonary vascular disease. Pulmonary vascular disease is treated according to its cause, e.g. a pulmonary embolism will be treated with blood thinners. Also with pulmonary arterial hypertension a range of medicines will be used to lower blood pressure.

Other pulmonary vascular disease information can be found at the Lung Foundation Australia or Healthdirect Australia.

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