What Is Pediatric Pulmonary Hypertension?

A pediatrician examining his patient's heartbeat to check for hypertension.

It likely feels like just seeing the word “hypertension” can increase your blood pressure, especially in relation to your child. Most people know that systemic hypertension can create a host of health issues, but one type of hypertension that is less common and harder to identify is pulmonary hypertension in children and infants.

Pediatric pulmonology experts can help you understand pediatric pulmonary hypertension, what causes it, and what treatment options are available.

Pediatric Pulmonary Hypertension: Understanding the Condition

Pediatric pulmonary hypertension is rare, occurring in four to ten cases per million children per year. It is a condition in which the flow of blood that leaves the right side of your child’s heart faces increased pressure.

Usually, blood flows from the right side of your heart into the pulmonary arteries as well as into the smaller blood vessels that populate the lungs. These blood vessels contain muscles in their walls that contract and relax, regulating the amount of blood that enters the lungs.

With a pediatric pulmonology issue like pediatric pulmonary hypertension, your child’s lung blood vessels contain more muscles than normal. This creates a higher level of resistance, leading the right side of your child’s heart to have to pump harder to get blood into the lungs.

Because the right side of the heart has to work harder, it can start to thicken and enlarge. Over time, this can cause it to fail.

The condition can present with symptoms like:

  • Abnormal heartbeat
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Chest pain
  • Swelling of ankles or legs
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Fatigue
  • Blue tinge to hands and feet
  • Poor growth

The symptoms are not always clear, however, and they can point to various other conditions, so turning to a pediatric pulmonology expert for a diagnosis is essential.

Note that symptoms can appear gradually over time or all at once.

Causes of Pediatric Pulmonary Hypertension: Who Is at Risk?

Pediatric pulmonology experts don’t have a clear cause for this condition identified. It appears that it can be genetic, with children of adults with the condition being more likely to experience it.

Congenital heart defects can also be the culprits, as well as chronic lung disease. Premature infants with underdeveloped lungs and those with chronic blood clots, viral illnesses, and cystic fibrosis are at high risk.

The condition can also develop without any clear cause, making proper testing vital for early detection and treatment.

Diagnosing and Treating Pediatric Pulmonary Hypertension

To diagnose this condition, your child’s pediatric pulmonology expert can perform an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart. It can help the doctor estimate pulmonary pressure.

If the echocardiogram shows pulmonary hypertension, your child’s doctor can perform a cardiac catheterization to confirm the diagnosis. This diagnostic test helps the doctor get an exact reading of the child’s pulmonary blood pressure.

The treatment of this pediatric pulmonology issue can include nitric oxide, which is a vasodilator. It relaxes the blood vessels. This can be an excellent treatment option for babies.

Oral medications can also be a big help. Oral vasodilators and endothelin-receptor antagonists can help improve blood flow and reduce pulmonary blood pressure.

Another option is oxygen therapy, in which your child can receive supplemental oxygen as part of ongoing treatment. It can help relax the blood vessels and take pressure off the lungs because your child’s blood will be oxygenated.

Because of the advances in neonatal care and echocardiography, it is now easier to diagnose pediatric pulmonary hypertension earlier, which allows treatment to begin earlier. The sooner treatment can start, the better the outcome for your child.

In some premature babies, the condition can resolve itself once they continue to develop. Most infants with the condition do very well on oxygen therapy.

Pediatric Pulmonology Experts You Can Rely On

To monitor the health of your child’s lungs, you want to have experts on your side. It’s important to find a clinic with access to the latest diagnostic tools and the most respected physicians in the field of pediatrics.

With the best team ready to help you and your child, you can rest assured that help is available no matter your child’s health challenges. For quality pediatric care you can trust, schedule an appointment with Newport Children’s Medical Group today.