Pulmonary hypertension

The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research has awarded the VU medical center a Vidi grant of 600,000 euros for research into pulmonary hypertension. The research will mainly focus on the heart failure that occurs with pulmonary hypertension. In particular on the causes of heart failure, on the specific moment when the right heart muscle fails and on the ways to prevent heart failure.

What is pulmonary hypertension

Pulmonary hypertension is a rare, progressive and incurable disease of the blood vessels in the lungs. In patients with pulmonary hypertension, the blood vessels in the lungs will gradually narrow. These narrowings will increase the pressure in the blood vessels of the lungs. In particular, the right heart muscle, which supplies the lungs with blood, experiences more resistance when pumping blood. The right side of the heart will therefore have to adapt to continue pumping blood through the lungs. As a result, the right ventricle will enlarge. If the pressure in the lungs continues to rise, the heart will have increasing difficulty in pumping blood through the lungs. If this is not successful enough, oxygen deficiency and heart failure will occur.


Blood pressure rises due to the gradual narrowing of the blood vessels in the lungs. This means there is so-called high blood pressure in the lungs. There are a number of causes that can impede blood flow to the lungs and thus cause pulmonary hypertension.

  • congenital heart defects
  • medications (e.g. certain diet pills)
  • HIV infection
  • blood clots
  • pulmonary embolisms
  • liver diseases
  • genetic predisposition
  • connective tissue diseases



Pulmonary hypertension is often diagnosed when the patient has had complaints for some time. In many cases, pulmonary hypertension is considered too late as a possible condition. This is mainly because the complaints are so general. As a result, the condition is usually already in an advanced stage when the diagnosis is made. Patients with pulmonary hypertension may have the following symptoms.

  • unusual tiredness
  • shortness of breath
  • chestpain
  • fainting, near fainting or dizziness
  • swelling of the ankles
  • fat feet
  • palpitations
  • hoarseness and cough
  • enlarged liver and swollen abdomen
  • cold and blue hands

Pulmonary hypertension can only be diagnosed after extensive examination by a doctor.


Various tests must be carried out to finally make the diagnosis. It is important to rule out other diseases. This includes taking an X-ray of the heart and lungs to see whether the heart is enlarged or whether the pulmonary vessels are enlarged. An echocardiogram may also be performed to determine the dimensions of the heart, heart function and blood flow. A cardiac catheterization can measure the blood pressure in the pulmonary vessels and an ECG can be used to investigate whether there are cardiac arrhythmias or thickening of the heart muscle. In addition, a lung function test, a lung biopsy and a liver function test can be performed. And finally, a blood test can be done to determine whether there may be an autoimmune disease.


To date, treatment has mainly consisted of administering drugs to reduce the pressure in the pulmonary arteries.

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