Pulmonary Heart Disease
While everyone seems to know heart can become diseased not many people know that the lungs can also become damaged. The heart and lungs work in synchrony. When lungs get diseased, the process also affects the heart. When the heart fails because of problems in the lung, this is known as cor pulmonale. Pulmonary heart disease occurs when the blood flow to the lungs is slowed, blocked or increased. Normally blood from the heart goes to the lungs where its gets oxygenated. The lung then returns the blood back to the heart where it is pumped to the rest of the body.
In other cases, the right heart muscle is weak and can no longer accept all the blood returning from the lungs. When the right side of the heart fails to pump blood, this results in a back log of blood in the lung which is known as pulmonary edema. Individuals who have excess fluid in the lung will typically complain of shortness of breath which is worse when they lie down, chest pain, swelling of the legs, fainting episodes and a distended abdomen. Of all the causes of pulmonary heart disorders, right heart failure is the most common. When the right heart fails, there is subsequent back up of fluid in the lungs and results in swelling of the entire body often known as anasarca.
Other causes of cor pulmonale include chronic disorders of the lung like COPD, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and pulmonary embolism.
Pulmonary heart disease is not difficult to diagnose but often quite difficult to treat. When fluid starts to accumulate in the body and legs start to swell, the first thing to make sure is that the heart is working. To make a diagnosis of cor pulmonale, the physician will utilize a variety of test including ECG and an echocardiogram. A chest x-ray in a patient with cor pulmonale will often show an increased heart with fluid collection in both lungs.
The gold standard to make a diagnosis of pulmonary heart disease is a technique known as right side heart catheterization. In this technique, small plastic tubing is inserted into a blood vessel in the groin and guided all the way to the heart. A dye is injected and pictures of the heart are obtained. The study can also allow the doctor to obtain pressures in various parts of the lung and heart. High lung pressure is always abnormal.
In most cases, where the right heart muscle is weak, medications to lower body fluids are used. Once the fluid in the body is reduced the work of the heart is lessened. Once the fluid is excreted, the individual starts to feel better and breathe easier rather quickly.
The progression of pulmonary heart disease depends on the cause. If blood clots in the lung are removed, then the individual will do fine. However, in cases of COPD, the condition rarely reverts back to normal but can be halted if one stops smoking.
Other treatments for cor pulmonale include vasodilators and oxygen therapy. Viagra is an excellent drug to reduce pressures in the pulmonary vessel and relieve symptoms. The last resort treatment is a combined heart and lung transplant. While this is a great option, it is limited by the availability of organ donors.