Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension

Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is a type of high blood pressure (hypertension) that occurs in the arteries located in the lungs and on the right side of the heart. The pulmonary arteries transport oxygen between the lungs and heart. The process starts in the lower right chamber of the heart, called the right ventricle, which pumps blood through the arteries and into the lungs in order to get oxygen and deliver it back to the heart’s upper left chamber. Eventually, the oxygen-rich blood is pumped out to the rest of the body through another artery called the aorta. When the pulmonary arteries become blocked, constrict, or tighten, or when the cells lining the tiny arteries are inflamed, it becomes difficult for blood to travel through the arteries. As a result of these blockages and constrictions, pressure builds up in the arteries and prevents the flow of blood between the lungs and heart.

The constant strain of trying to force a normal flow of blood leads to an increased workload on the heart’s chambers, which can stress and weaken the muscle and eventually cause heart failure. This in turn can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, fainting, heart palpitations, and chest pain. Among those diagnosed with PAH, heart failure is the leading cause of death. Several contributing conditions and diseases create a higher risk for developing PAH, including congestive heart disease, lung disease, and blood clots.

Created in 1988, the UAB Pulmonary Vascular Disease Clinic is among the busiest centers of its kind, seeing more than 1,200 patients and accepting more than 200 referrals from around the country each year. The clinic offers both standard and experimental treatments for a wide range of pulmonary vascular diseases, including PAH, pulmonary thromboembolism, and pulmonary hypertension associated with lung or connective tissue disease.

Our strengths include:

  • A multidisciplinary, collaborative group of specialized physicians
  • Advanced therapies, including transplantation and promising treatments under development
  • A specialized critical care inpatient unit
  • Specialized nurses who are highly trained in pulmonary hypertension
  • Pulmonary hypertension research unit and laboratory
  • Access to the UAB EatRight Program and support groups

UAB has participated in the development and testing of virtually all available pulmonary vascular disease therapies, and we have access to promising new therapies now being studied. Our research includes the identification of the mechanisms that cause PAH, molecular markers for early detection of the disease, identifying new treatment compounds, and monitoring therapy response.

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