Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Let's Talk About Pulmonary Hypertension

November is Pulmonary Hypertension Awareness Month and this week it is Pulmonary Hypertension Awareness Week in the UK. Pulmonary Hypertension (PH) is a rare, progressive and incurable disease. It is a serious condition that causes high blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries, which can severely damage the heart and lungs. 

Unfortunately not many people have heard of it, so if you suffer from it, the lack of awareness can add to all the stress of the diagnosis and the battles you have to cope with on a daily basis. When you suffer from a rare disease like Pulmonary Hypertension, it can feel very isolating, as people don't understand about the disease and you are often misunderstood. Only circa 7000 people are affected by PH in the UK and it can affect anyone regardless of age or ethnic background. It is more common in women than men. 

Pulmonary Hypertension is a very general term to describe this disease, but it is a very complex disease and really is much more than just 'pulmonary' and 'hypertension'. Indeed, it does very much involve 'hypertension', which is high blood pressure and with Pulmonary Hypertension it is a diagnosis of high blood pressure in the blood vessels of the lungs. When I suffered from Pulmonary Hypertension I must admit I used to become quite exasperated with this tag of 'hypertension', as people continually told me all about their high blood pressure problems and the tablets they were on for it, which is a totally different problem. Simple and straightforward high blood pressure can be extremely dangerous, but it can also be safely controlled by a few tablets and lifestyle changes and isn't usually a fatal problem unless it's undetected. 

Pulmonary Hypertension, however is high blood pressure in the lungs and although it can be treated to try and stabilise a patient, it cannot be cured and it becomes progressive, damaging the blood vessels in the lungs, causing severe breathing difficulties and the heart to overwork until it begins to fail and it can become fatal. Treatments can be harsh, with difficult side effects and can include: oral heart failure tablets such as diuretics; targeted oral treatments to stabilise the high pressure in the lungs; oxygen therapy; intravenous medications and major surgeries such as operations to remove blood clots from the lungs, lung transplantation and heart and lung transplantation. 

PH patients suffer with a range of symptoms such as breathlessness, extreme fatigue, dizziness, fainting, swollen ankles and legs, plus the side effects of varying levels of medications. 

Take a look at the PHAUK website to find out more about the causes, the symptoms and the treatment of PH, as they are explained well and in depth on here.

Pulmonary Hypertension is no 'ordinary' high blood pressure, in fact when I suffered from it, my 'ordinary' blood pressure was perfectly normal. I looked perfectly normal and well a lot of the time too, as heart and lung failure isn't something that anyone can see. It's something that's happening inside you, only you know how fatigued and unwell you feel, people cannot see it. It makes it difficult for others to understand when they cannot see you are sick and it is a disease that is unheard of. That is why we need to continue raising awareness to help others to understand more about the complexities of this disease and the impact on a Pulmonary Hypertension sufferer's life. 

My own PH journey was a difficult one, with many hospital admissions and emergencies, countless tests and monitoring; many complex medications including combinations of oral medications, inhalers and complicated intravenous medication; a two year wait for, and then undergoing a heart and double lung transplant. My transplant has given me such a better quality of life, but a transplant does entail a whole range of other medications and new medical problems to cope with. My transplant was because of PH and my transplant journey is very much a part of my PH journey. 

When people say, 'You haven't PH any more - why keep going on about PH?' It's because PH has been a big part of where and who I am now. It's in my past, but has shaped my future. It's because PH is so misunderstood. It's because so many of my friends still suffer with PH. It's because we still hope for a cure for PH. 

Part of the reason I wrote my book 'Life is for the Living' was to help raise awareness of Pulmonary Hypertension - to try and show others what it is like to live with a rare disease and undergo the varied steps of treatment as the disease progresses and the impact it has on a sufferer's life. Any proceeds from my book are for the charities that helped me through my journey and continue to do so, including the PHAUK, the charity that gave me advice, support and put me in touch with other Pulmonary Hypertension sufferers at a very desperate time in my life. 

I will always campaign to raise awareness of Pulmonary Hypertension, because once I didn't know 
anything about it. It didn't really matter to me back in those days. Why take the time to learn a little about any rare disease? Well it may just save a life - your own or someone else's or help you to understand what someone else is dealing with and going through. 

I didn't know anything about PH and its symptoms once. Early diagnosis equals better prognosis. If only I had. 

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