Pulmonary Vascular Disease (PVD)

Last Updated 05/08/2020

Author:Victor Test, MD, FCCP

About Pulmonary Vascular Disease (PVD)

Key facts about Pulmonary Vascular Disease (PVD)
  • You can get pulmonary vascular disease (PVD) from your parents or develop it on your own. Often, it has no clear cause.
  • People with this condition can’t easily get oxygen into their blood.
  • PVD covers many different illnesses. Some develop slowly over decades. Others are immediately fatal.

The term pulmonary vascular disease is used for many disorders caused by poor (or abnormal) blood flow between your heart and lungs. As the disease gets worse, it can also affect the rest of your body.

Typically, blood travels from the right side of your heart to the lungs through your pulmonary arteries (pulmonary means “having to do with the lungs”). The arteries then split into smaller vessels and finally into networks of thin vessels called capillaries. Your lung capillaries are where your blood releases carbon dioxide and takes in oxygen. The oxygen-rich blood returns through the pulmonary veins to the left side of the heart. From there it is pumped out to your body.

PVD can develop if something changes this sequence. These changes can slowly develop over time. For example, some people have poor connections between the arteries and veins in their lungs (called arteriovenous malformation). This condition makes good oxygen–carbon dioxide exchange difficult and may cause conditions like pulmonary hypertension over months and years. Other causes of PVD appear quickly (called acute causes). For instance, blood clots can form suddenly and travel to your lungs. Clots can also form over a long time (called chronic thromboembolic disease). Diseases that narrow the vessels of your lungs (or pulmonary veno-occlusive disease) also can cause PVD.

How serious is Pulmonary Vascular Disease?

PVD can harm your body in many ways:

  • Making the right side of your heart larger (called cor pulmonale)
  • Irregular heartbeat (called arrhythmia)
  • Bleeding
  • A blood clot in your lung vessels (called pulmonary embolism).

You can avoid developing certain diseases if:

  • Your health care provider discovers PVD early enough;
  • You quit smoking; and
  • You get treated for your PVD.

It is important to diagnose PVD early. If you become short of breath, you should always contact a health care provider.

How PVD affects your body

If less blood flows through your lungs, you won’t be able to take in enough oxygen. Having less oxygen in your blood can harm how well your body changes food and drink into energy (your metabolism). It can also make some of your arteries narrower.

In most PVD cases, blood that can’t flow into the lungs gets pushed back into other blood vessels. This can cause high blood pressure in your lungs. The right side of your heart then has to pump harder to get blood into your lungs. The extra work can cause that side of your heart to fail over time. In some PVD cases, many large blood clots quickly get stuck in the blood vessels of the lungs. This is known as a pulmonary embolism. If enough vessels become clogged, blood may suddenly stop flowing into your lungs, which is always fatal. For more information, please see pulmonary arterial hypertension.