Pulmonary hypertension

Pulmonary hypertension (PH) is a condition where the blood pressure inside the arteries of the lungs is too high. This high blood pressure makes it more difficult for the heart to pump blood into the lungs.

At Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, recent treatment advances have greatly increased our success in helping kids manage PH symptoms. Learn about our nationally accredited Pulmonary Hypertension Program.

Who gets pulmonary hypertension?

Pulmonary hypertension can happen to children at any age, and sometimes the reasons they develop pulmonary hypertension aren't always clear. Certain conditions can make a child more likely to develop pulmonary hypertension, including lung disease of prematurity (also known as bronchopulmonary dysplasia), diaphragmatic hernia, chronic lung disease, certain types of unrepaired congenital heart disease and heart failure. Pulmonary hypertension also can be unrelated to any other disease, and this is known as "idiopathic pulmonary hypertension."

How serious is pulmonary hypertension?

Pulmonary hypertension in children older than newborn infants is considered rare. In many patients, it can get worse over time, leading to heart failure. However, in the last 10 years, there have been great advances in the understanding of pulmonary hypertension and success in new ways to treat and manage it. At Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, we've focused our resources so we can use the latest treatments and an individual approach to treat this disease.

How do I know if my child has pulmonary hypertension?

Many of our patients are referred to us by their primary care doctor. Patients can have many nonspecific symptoms such as:

  • Babies who have difficulty eating or fail to gain weight
  • Older children who feel short of breath with activity, weakness, chest pain or have fainting spells

Evaluating a patient who may have pulmonary hypertension has many steps. We develop an individual treatment plan for each patient, learning his or her medical history and doing a physical exam. Special tests, including echocardiography and blood tests, are regularly done. A cardiac catheterization procedure also may be needed. When all tests are complete, we discuss the treatment plan with the family.

How is pulmonary hypertension treated?

Treating pulmonary hypertension is different for each patient. Our goal is to find a correctable cause, such as a heart problem or lung disease. We partner with heart surgeons and pulmonologists (lung doctors) to develop a care plan. Our experts also have experience working with all medications used to treat pulmonary hypertension. Treatment involves educating each family about the disease so they can be part of the care team. We follow each patient closely to adjust treatment if needed.