Learn About Pulmonary Vascular Disease (PVD)
Pulmonary vascular disease (PVD) is broad category of disorders caused by abnormal blood flow between the heart and the lungs. As the disease progress, it can also affect the rest of the body.
- PVD can be genetic, acquired, but often of unknown cause.
- People with this condition have difficulties getting oxygen into their blood circulation.
- PVD covers a wide range of illnesses that can be immediately fatal to slowly progressing over decades.
What Is Pulmonary Vascular Disease?
Pulmonary vascular disease describes any process that disturbs the blood flow between the heart and the lungs. Blood travels from the right side of the heart to the lungs through pulmonary arteries. The vessels then split into smaller conduits and eventually into capillary beds where oxygen is absorbed and carbon dioxide is released. The pulmonary vein then returns the freshly oxygenated blood to the left side of the heart from where it is pumped throughout the rest of the body. Any process that disrupts the balance along this pathway defines PVD. For example, people with arteriovenous malformation (AVM) of the lungs, there is an abnormal communication between arteries and veins. The abnormal communication does not allow good oxygen-carbon dioxide exchanges and may cause symptoms like pulmonary hypertension. Nonetheless, pulmonary vascular disorder also includes acute and chronic thromboembolic disease (blood clot), pulmonary hypertension, pulmonary AVM’s, and pulmonary veno-occlusive disease. It can present as an acute process, such as blood clots traveling to the lungs, or as a slow progressing disease like AVM revealing itself over months and years.
How PVD Affects Your Body
When there is a change in blood circulation of the lungs, oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange decreases. The shortage of oxygen not only triggers metabolic changes but also leads to narrowing of some arteries. In the majority of pulmonary vascular disease, blood flow is diverted to the remaining blood vessels and may cause high blood pressure in the lungs. The right side of the heart has to work harder to compensate for this elevated blood pressure. The high workload eventually leads to right-sided heart failure. While in the case of massive pulmonary embolism, numerous, large clots travel and lodge themselves in the blood vessels of the lungs, blood circulation is suddenly lost, and the result is inevitably fatal.
How Serious is PVD
Pulmonary vascular disease may lead to complications such as abnormal enlargement of the right side of the heart (cor pulmonale), irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), bleeding, and pulmonary embolism (PE). Early diagnosis, avoiding risk factors, such as cigarette smoking, and treatment can help prevent progression of certain diseases. Early recognition is very important and shortness of breath should always be investigated.
Victor Test, MD, FCCP
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