The University of Chicago Medicine is home to the largest — and one of the most respected — heart failure programs in Illinois. It is also home to the country's most experienced and comprehensive programs for patients with pulmonary hypertension (PH).
Patients with PH have high blood pressure in the arteries that goes from their heart to their lungs. This forces the heart to work harder to pump blood through the lungs. Over time, the heart can weaken or fail completely.
State-of-the-art treatment for this uncommon, but potentially fatal condition is available at only a few centers in the nation, including UChicago Medicine. Here, our doctors provide the most advanced care available, based on more than 30 years of experience with PH. We treat more than 1,000 patients each year, making us one of the largest centers in the world.
Our staff members are leading authorities in all types of pulmonary hypertension. This includes:
- Idiopathic and familial pulmonary arterial hypertension, formerly known as primary pulmonary hypertension, which is a rare condition that may be caused by a genetic defect.
- Associated pulmonary arterial hypertension, which includes cases linked to connective tissue diseases (lupus and scleroderma), congenital heart disease, diet pills, HIV and liver disease.
- Other pulmonary hypertension categories (formerly termed secondary), which include cases related to heart disease, blood clots, intrinsic lung disease and sleep disorders.
- Pulmonary hypertension in children, which can sometimes be in conjunction with birth defects.
UChicago Medicine has an integrated, multidisciplinary team to effectively diagnose and treat PH. This team includes internationally recognized cardiologists who are experts in PH, pulmonologists recognized as experts in PH related to pulmonary conditions, as well as specially trained nurses who provide helpful assistance and support to families.
Diagnosing & Treating Pulmonary Hypertension
Your doctor may suspect that you have PH based on noninvasive tests, such as an X-ray or echocardiogram. Because an accurate diagnosis is critical to your care, you may need additional tests to rule out other possible heart problems. Our team often recommends several tests, including a cardiac catheterization. This allows doctors to diagnose PH and determine the best treatment plan, tailored specifically for each patient.
Our doctors also perform noninvasive pulmonary angiograms using the latest generation of computed tomography (CT) technology. UChicago Medicine was the first hospital in Illinois to use a 256-slice CT scanner. The scanner produces the fastest, clearest pictures of the heart and lungs available anywhere.
Other tests available to help detect PH include:
- Blood tests that help track the disease and its response to treatments.
- Exercise tests, to determine your exercise capacity.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which can be valuable in checking for any unusual heart conditions.
- Perfusion lung scans, to check for blood clots that may contribute to PH.
- Pulmonary function tests, which measure airflow in and out of your lungs.
Without treatment, people with PH are at risk for serious health problems. These include:
- Heart failure
- Blood clots
- Fluid build-up in the lungs and legs
To manage these risks, our doctors have developed the latest courses of treatment for PH. Although the treatment plans are often complex, our doctors have experience in using these potentially life-saving therapies and monitoring patients' progress during follow-up.
Treatment options include a variety of oral and inhaled medicines, as well as an IV pump that delivers medication directly into the bloodstream. Some of these include:
- Diuretics to rid your body of extra fluid that puts pressure on your heart
- Anticoagulants, which help reduce blood clots
- Calcium channel blockers, which are medicines originally developed to treat high blood pressure in the body. However, these drugs can be dangerous for some PH patients, so identifying the proper candidates is key.
- Endothelin receptor antagonists, such as bosentan (Tracleer) and ambrisentan (Letaris), which help prevent blood vessels from narrowing
- Phosphodiesterase inhibitors, such as sildenafil (Revatio) and tadalafil (Adcirc), to allow the lungs to produce more of their own natural vasodilators
- Iloprost (Ventavis), which is an inhaled prostacyclin that can relieve shortness of breath
- Treprostinil (Remodulin) and epoprostenol (Flolan), which are two intravenous medicines that open up the blood vessels and help ease symptoms of PH, including chest pain and shortness of breath
Our patients also have the opportunity to access the most promising therapies through clinical trials. People with PH travel from around the world to UChicago Medicine for treatment or a second opinion.