Pulmonary Hypertension Caused by Diastolic Dysfunction

Every time a healthy heart pumps oxygen-rich blood from the lungs into the rest of the body, it goes through two phases — a contracting or pumping phase (called systolic function) and a relaxing phase (called diastolic function).

When the muscles of the heart become stiff, they can't relax properly, creating a condition known as diastolic dysfunction. This inflexibility prevents the heart's ventricles from filling completely, causing blood to back up in the organs. Diastolic dysfunction is a significant cause of pulmonary hypertension.

Symptoms and Causes of Diastolic Dysfunction

Aging is the most common cause of this stiffening of the heart; in fact, it's estimated that more than 50% of adults of over the age of 70 have diastolic dysfunction. Other causes include high blood pressure, uncontrolled diabetes, kidney dysfunction and — in rare cases — some cancers and genetic disorders.

Diastolic heart dysfunction often creates the same array of symptoms that are found in other types of heart failure and cardiopulmonary diseases, including:

  • Shortness of breath with exertion that gets progressively worse
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Fluid retention in the lower extremities or abdomen (edema)

It's easy to dismiss these symptoms as part of "normal aging." Talk to your doctor whenever you experience these kinds of symptoms. An ultrasound of your heart known as an echocardiogram can confirm a diagnosis of diastolic dysfunction.

The UPMC Treatment Approach

Our physicians in the UPMC Comprehensive Pulmonary Hypertension Program take a cross-disciplinary approach to care, working closely with cardiologists, cardiac surgeons and other experts within the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute.

By collaborating with physicians in other areas of specialty, we can properly diagnose diastolic dysfunction as a cause of pulmonary hypertension and find the right treatments to help improve your quality of life and sustain your independent lifestyle.

There is no cure for diastolic heart dysfunction, but the symptoms can be managed. We work with patients to pursue a full range of treatment options, including:

  • A Healthy Lifestyle - This includes maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet that's low in salt and getting regular cardiovascular exercise, either on your own or as part of a cardiac rehabilitation program.
  • Medications - Water pills can often help to alleviate the edema that is caused by diastolic dysfunction, and other medications can help to treat underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, diabetes or other heart conditions such as atrial fibrillation.
  • Left Ventricular Assist Devices (LVAD) - UPMC cardiologists have been on the leading edge of LVAD treatment since the technology was introduced in the 1980s, and have been leaders in improving the technology since then. These implantable devices pump blood into the body just as a healthy heart would, either as a "bridge" while waiting for a heart transplant or as a permanent valve replacement.
  • Heart Transplantation - In rare cases, a heart transplant may be considered as a treatment for diastolic dysfunction. Our physicians are leading experts in heart transplantation as part of the UPMC Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute, a nationally regarded center of excellence in transplantation.

Schedule an Appointment

To schedule an appointment with the UPMC Comprehensive Pulmonary Hypertension Program team, call toll-free at
1-877-PH4-UPMC, or email PHprogram@upmc.edu.​​

UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences | Supplemental content provided by Healthwise, Incorporated. To learn more, visit www.healthwise.org

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA | UPMC.com