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Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension

Getting a Diagnosis continued...

Chest X-ray: An X-ray can show if your arteries or heart are enlarged. Chest X-rays can help find other lung or heart conditions that may be causing the problems.

Exercise testing: Your doctor may want you to run on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike while you are hooked up to a monitor, so he can see any changes in your oxygen levels, heart function, or other things.

Your doctor may also do blood tests to check for HIV and conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.

If these tests show that you might have pulmonary hypertension, your doctor will need to do a right heart catheterization to be sure. Here's what happens during that test:

  • The doctor places a catheter into a large vein, most often the jugular vein in your neck, and then threads it into the right side of your heart.
  • A monitor records the pressures in the right side of the heart and in the pulmonary arteries.
  • The doctor may also inject medicines into the catheter to see if the pulmonary arteries are stiff. This is called a vasoreactivity test.

Right heart catheterization is safe. The doctor will give you a sedative and use local anesthesia. You can usually go home the same day, although you will need someone to drive you home.

Questions for Your Doctor

You may want to write down a list of questions before your appointment, so you can make sure you ask your doctor everything you want to. It can also help to have a friend or family member with you to help you get the answers you want.

Some possible questions are:

  • What's the best treatment for me?
  • How often should I see a doctor for my condition?
  • Do I need to see a specialist?
  • When should I go to the emergency room?
  • Do I need to limit the salt or fluids in my diet?
  • What kind of exercise can I do?
  • Are there any activities I should stay away from?
  • Should I get a pneumonia vaccine and a flu shot?

Treatment

Pulmonary hypertension varies from person to person, so your treatment plan will be specific to your needs. Ask your doctor what your options are and what to expect.

First, your doctor will treat the cause of your condition. For example, if emphysema is causing the problem, you'll need to treat that to improve your pulmonary hypertension.

Most people also get treatment to improve their breathing, which makes it easier to be active and do daily tasks. Oxygen therapy, when you breathe pure oxygen through prongs that fit in your nose, will help if you’re short of breath and have low oxygen levels in your blood. It helps you live longer when you have pulmonary hypertension. If you are at risk for blood clots your doctor will recommend blood thinners. Other medicines improve how well your heart works and keep fluid from building up in your body.

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