Lifestyle changes to cope with pulmonary hypertension

People with pulmonary hypertension might need to modify their living space and daily activities when symptoms worsen, such as limiting climbing of stairs
People with pulmonary hypertension might need to modify their living space and daily activities when symptoms worsen, such as limiting climbing of stairsPHOTO: ST FILE

People with pulmonary hypertension might need to modify their living space and daily activities when symptoms worsen. This is because the high blood pressure in their lungs can strain the heart.

Some practical tips include:

  • Finding resources to ease daily and weekly household chores;
  • Limiting climbing of stairs;
  • Modifying bathrooms by fitting easily reachable faucets and shower racks;
  • Rearranging kitchen tools for easy access; and
  • Arranging for childcare and handicapped parking.

They should also:

  • Quit smoking to prevent their condition from worsening.
  • Adopt an active lifestyle, but realise that their condition can cause them to feel breathless even when they do light exercise. As over-exertion can be detrimental for them, the rule of thumb is to stop their activities immediately when they experience symptoms such as giddiness, fatigue, chest tightness, palpitations or severe breathlessness.
  • They are encouraged to enrol in the hospital's pulmonary rehabilitation programme, where patients can exercise safely under the care of qualified professionals.
  • Review travel plans with their doctors. Air travel and high-altitude locations expose them to lower blood oxygen levels, so they are advised to discuss with their doctors the need for supplemental oxygen and refills. They should obtain a doctor's letter stating their list of medications and any special care - for example, oxygen supply - to clear security checkpoints. If possible, they should get the name of a doctor at the travel destination who is familiar with treating pulmonary hypertension. During the trip, they are also advised to avoid sitting for long periods, and to stand up and walk around. This helps prevent deep venous thrombosis.
  • Consult doctors before taking over-the-counter medication, which could interact with their existing drugs.
  • Female patients are advised to avoid getting pregnant. Up to 38 per cent of pregnant women with pulmonary hypertension could run into complications, which might be fatal. In addition, many of their medications are harmful to the foetus.
  • Get their yearly flu vaccination and pneumococcal vaccinations every five years to prevent severe lung infections.
  • Practise good dental hygiene by brushing and flossing their teeth regularly and going for yearly dental checks. Poor dental care could result in infections, which might worsen their condition.

Joan Chew

  • Source: Adjunct Associate Professor Lim Soo Teik, deputy medical director and senior consultant at the department of cardiology at National Heart Centre Singapore; Adjunct Assistant Professor Kenneth Guo, consultant at the department of cardiology at National Heart Centre Singapore
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2015, with the headline 'Lifestyle changes to cope with pulmonary hypertension'. Print Edition | Subscribe