Many patients with COPD are found to have elevated pressures in the pulmonary arteries of their lungs. This elevated pressure is called pulmonary hypertension or simply PH. There is a disease called pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), which has similar findings, but without COPD. I have written several articles on this disease in the past. It has been thought, and taught, that the elevated pulmonary artery pressure in patients with COPD was a result of their lung disease and no recommendation for treatment was offered, but that line of thinking is changing.
Recently, researchers have been studying and comparing patients with COPD/PH and patients with PAH, and have found some interesting and disturbing facts. Researchers found that patients with COPD/PH had more functional impairment and poorer survival than those with PAH. These results suggest that some patients with COPD/PH may benefit from treatment.
The diagnosis of COPD/PH requires a careful work-up that could include a right heart catheterization to confirm the elevated pressures in the lung’s arteries. The good news is that treatments are currently available to reduce the pressure in the pulmonary arteries and help survival, and even delay or prevent lung transplantation.
From a pulmonary physician’s standpoint, these findings mean we need to examine and quantify any elevation in the pulmonary arteries of our COPD patients, and consider them for treatment in the proper clinical setting. If you have COPD you may wish to discuss these facts with your family doctor or pulmonary physician.