Roxana Sulica, MD, Associate Professor, Department of Medicine and Director, Pulmonary Hypertension at NYU Langone in New York City discusses Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), a progressive condition that affects the heart and lungs. PAH is characterized by abnormally high blood pressure (hypertension) in the pulmonary artery, the blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the lungs. The most common signs and symptoms are shortness of breath (dyspnea) during exertion and fainting spells. As the condition worsens, people can experience dizziness, swelling (edema) of the ankles or legs, chest pain, and a racing pulse. Most cases of PAH occur in individuals with no family history of the disorder.

Although some cases are due to mutations in the BMPR2 gene and inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern, a gene mutation has not yet been identified in most individuals. When PAH is inherited from an affected relative it is called “familial” PAH. Cases with no identifiable cause may be referred to as “idiopathic” PAH. PAH can also occur secondary to an underlying disorder such as connective tissue diseases, HIV infection, chronic hemolytic anemia, and congenital heart disease, to name a few. PAH can also be induced by certain drugs and toxins, for example fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine (appetite suppressants now banned by the FDA), toxic rapeseed oil, and amphetamines.

The average survival of a person with PAH after diagnosis is estimated to be around 2.8 years, however individual prognosis may be better or worse depending on a variety of factors including age and severity of PAH. Studies have demonstrated survivals ranging from less than 1 year to over 7 years. Current treatments are helpful in controlling/managing symptoms experienced by people with PAH, but unfortunately no treatment has significantly improved survival.