Pulmonary hypertension (PH) frequently complicates left sided heart disease which includes myocardial dysfunction, both preserved and reduced ejection fraction, and valvular heart disease. In many patients, PH will improve or resolve with diuresis, but in other patients the PH does not resolve (i.e. out-of-proportion or mixed PH). PH in the setting of left heart disease is associated with greater risk of morbidity and mortality. Furthermore, there is no consensus on treating WHO Group 2 PH with vasodilator therapies but it remains an area of interest and investigation.
WHO Group 2 pulmonary hypertension is defined as:
Other hemodynamic variables have been used to characterize PH with left heart disease.
Terminology such as passive versus reactive or proportion versus disproportionate PH are often misleading and do not fully reflect the pathology of PH. Recently adopted terminology recognizes that while most types of Group 2 PH is due to volume overload or valvular heart disease and will resolve with correction of the left heart disease (post-capillary PH), other patients will have persistent PH with a wide transpulmonary gradient (TPG) or persistently elevated pulmonary vascular resistance (PVR) despite effective treatment of the left heart disease through diuresis or correction of the valvular abnormality (pre-capillary PH).1
For example, a patient who presents with congestive heart failure who has persistent PH despite normalization of the LV filling pressure or a patient with a pulmonary capillary wedge pressure of 18 mm Hg, TPG of 20 mm Hg, and PVR 4 Wood units could both be described as having pre- and post-capillary PH. On the other hand, a patient who presented with mean PA pressure of 30 mm Hg and PCW pressure of 24 mm Hg and after diuresis has a mean PA pressure of 18 mm Hg and PCW pressure 10 mm Hg would be consistent with post-capillary PH.
In most cases of PH associated with left heart disease, passive pulmonary artery pressure elevation occurs as a consequence of maintaining forward circulation into left atrial and ventricular changes with elevated pressures. In these cases, diuresis restores normal left ventricular filling pressures and the pulmonary artery pressures normalize. However, in other cases, decrease in LV filling pressures does not always restore normal pulmonary artery pressures. In these cases, ‘out-of-proportion’ or a mixed etiology of PH is apparent.
The exact mechanisms underlying this phenomenon are not fully understood but are felt to occur from barotrauma related to increased pressures or pulmonary edema itself results in localized injury.
Metalloproteinase activation may cause when compromised microvascular function results in edema and result in tissue changes in the extracellular matrix. Angiotensin II and endothelin activation mediate not only vasoconstriction but also fibroblast proliferation resulting in more permanent vascular remodeling changes.9
The general goals of evaluating WHO Group 2 pulmonary hypertension are to discriminate left heart failure from pulmonary vascular disease, assess for underlying myocardial or valvular abnormalities which can be treated, and to ascertain whether the PH is entirely ‘passive’ or mixed with evidence of abnormal pulmonary vascular function. A comprehensive assessment of a patient suspected to have WHO Group 2 PH should include consideration of various imaging, stress, and hemodynamic tests.
In addition to estimating the pulmonary pressures, the echocardiogram assess myocardial function as well as valve function. With regard to myocardial function, the LV diastolic function is often overlooked in favor of the ejection fraction measure of systolic function. However, as diastolic HF is a frequent cause of Group 2 PH it is vital to characterize the diastolic properties of the LV based on mitral valve inflow pattern and tissue Doppler of the mitral annular velocity10. Although early diastolic dysfunction can be apparent with the early and late mitral inflow velocities are reversed, a pseudonormal pattern can occur when the left atrial pressures are increased, for example when there is concomitant mitral valve disease or in a volume overloaded state. A Valsalva maneuver can transiently increase the LV filling pressure which unmasks the reversed mitral inflow pattern. Volume status can be estimated based on the ratio of the mitral inflow E velocity and the mitral annular e’ velocity as well as the diameter and respiratory pattern of the inferior vena cava.
The RHC is the gold standard for diagnosing PH and discriminating pre-capillary PH due to pulmonary vascular diseases (PAH and CTEPH) from left sided heart failure. Various provocative maneuvers can be done in addition to simply measuring the pulmonary pressures and cardiac output to either assess response to vasodilators or increase disease detection sensitivity. PH associated with systolic heart failure is associated with increased morbidity and mortality as well as a barrier to cardiac transplant in end-stage heart failure patients unless the PH is reversible. Patients with systolic HF who have a demonstrated vasodilator response with prostaglandin E1 or milrinone have been able to be bridged to cardiac transplantation. Some patients with normal or near normal hemodynamics may have masked hemodynamic abnormalities. Fluid challenge with a 500cc to 1000cc fluid bolus has been demonstrated to be well tolerated and can identify patients with impaired LV filling.8, 12 A more recent approach to provocative testing is use of exercise testing. Supine bicycle ergometry enables rigorous exercise with scheduled increases in workload to systematically assess the changes in pulmonary and LV filling pressures while also assessing for adequate increase in cardiac output. There is data that using this techniques allows clinicians to detect pulmonary hypertension at earlier disease stage and discriminate LV disease from pulmonary vascular disease.
It is reasonable to assume that PH secondary to left heart disease can be associated with co-morbid conditions. These may contribute to myocardial dysfunction (e.g. ischemic heart disease, hypertension) or pulmonary diseases (e.g. obstructive lung disease, sleep apnea). Other co-morbidities may be risk factors leading to left heart disease (e.g. diabetes mellitus) or co-morbid states which may increase the risk of heart failure symptoms or increase the risk of overall mortality, such as chronic kidney disease.
Thus, a comprehensive evaluation of WHO Group 2 pulmonary hypertension should consider these possibilities, and the management of a patient with WHO Group 2 pulmonary hypertension should also factor in any existing co-morbid conditions.
Initial treatment of WHO Group 2 PH must first address the underlying myocardial or valve disease. Risk factor modification is crucial to improving long-term outcomes and reduction of morbidity. For example, blood pressures management, treatment of sleep apnea, weight reduction, managing valvular heart disease, and treatment of coronary artery disease according to ACC/AHA guidelines should occur before considering treating the PH. In patients where volume overload is evident on clinical exam or by hemodynamic data, diuretic therapy should be introduced or adjusted to improve volume status. In the majority of cases, the PH will resolve or significantly improve along with symptoms once the patient’s volume status has been corrected. For patients with valvular heart disease, PH can increase the morbidity of the valve disease but initiating pulmonary vasodilator therapy before the valve disease is treated also increases the risk of adverse drug effects and exacerbation of left heart failure symptoms.
David Ishizawar, MD
UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute
April 30, 2015
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