Cor pulmonale

  • Definition
    • Cor pulmonale is a condition that causes the right side of the heart to fail. Long-term high blood pressure in the arteries of the lung and right ventricle of the heart can lead to cor pulmonale.

  • Alternative Names
    • Right-sided heart failure; Pulmonary heart disease

  • Causes
    • 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:

  • Symptoms
    • Shortness of breath or lightheadedness during activity is often the first symptom of cor pulmonale. You may also have a fast heartbeat and feel like your heart is pounding.

      Over time, symptoms occur with lighter activity or even while you are at rest. Symptoms you may have are:

      • Fainting spells during activity
      • Chest discomfort, usually in the front of the chest
      • Chest pain
      • Swelling of the feet or ankles
      • Symptoms of lung disorders, such as wheezing or coughing
      • Bluish lips and fingers (cyanosis)
  • Exams and Tests
  • Treatment
    • 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. In general, the cause of your cor pulmonale will determine which treatment you receive.

      If your provider prescribes medicines, you may take them by mouth (oral), receive them through 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:

      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.
      • Women should not get pregnant.
  • Outlook (Prognosis)
    • 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.

  • Possible Complications
    • Cor pulmonale may lead to:

      • Life-threatening shortness of breath
      • Severe fluid buildup in your body
      • Death
  • When to Contact a Medical Professional
    • Call your provider if you have shortness of breath or chest pain.

  • Prevention
    • Do not smoke. Smoking causes lung disease, which can lead to cor pulmonale.

  • References
    • Ferri FF. Cor pulmonale. In: Ferri FF, ed. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2016. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2016:368-370.

      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.