High blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs is called pulmonary hypertension. It is the most common cause of cor pulmonale.
In people who have pulmonary hypertension, changes in the small blood vessels inside the lungs can lead to increased blood pressure in the right side of the heart. This makes it harder for the heart to pump blood to the lungs. If this high pressure continues, it puts a strain on the right side of the heart. That strain can cause cor pulmonale.
Lung conditions that cause a low blood oxygen level in the blood over a long time can also lead to cor pulmonale. Some of these are:
The goal of treatment is to control symptoms. It is important to treat medical problems that cause pulmonary hypertension, because they can lead to cor pulmonale.
Many treatment options are available. Your doctor will decide which medicine is best for you. In general, the cause of your cor pulmonale will determine which treatment you receive.
If your doctor prescribes medicines, you may take them by mouth (oral), receive them through a tube that goes into a vein (intravenous or IV), or breathe them in (inhaled). You will be closely monitored during treatment to watch for side effects and to see how well the medicine works for you. Never stop taking your medicines without first talking to your doctor.
Other treatments may include:
Blood thinners to reduce the risk of blood clots
Oxygen therapy at home
A lung or heart-lung transplant, if medicine does not work
Important tips to follow:
Avoid strenuous activities and heavy lifting.
Avoid traveling to high altitudes.
Get a yearly flu vaccine, as well as other vaccines, such as the pneumonia vaccine.
If you smoke, stop.
Use oxygen if your doctor prescribes it.
Do not get pregnant (women).
How well you do, depends on the cause of your cor pulmonale.
As your illness gets worse, you will need to make changes to your home so that you can manage as well as possible. You will also need help around your house.
McLaughlin VV, Humbert M. Pulmonary hypertension. In: Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 74.
Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.