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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

Pulmonary Vascular Disease

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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).

Tests for Pulmonary Vascular Disease

Based on a person's symptoms, signs, and history, a doctor may begin to suspect the presence of pulmonary vascular disease. The diagnosis of pulmonary vascular disease is usually made using one or more of the following tests:

Computed tomography (CT scan): A CT scanner takes multiple X-rays, and a computer constructs detailed images of the lungs and chest. CT scanning can usually detect a pulmonary embolism in a pulmonary artery. CT scans can also uncover problems affecting the lungs themselves.

Ventilation/perfusion scan (V/Q scan): This nuclear medicine test takes images of how well the lungs fill with air. Those images are compared to pictures of how well blood flows through the pulmonary blood vessels. Unmatched areas may suggest a pulmonary embolism (blood clot) is present.

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