November is PAH Awareness Month
VANCOUVER, Nov. 14 /CNW/ - The answer is Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension,
also known as PAH; the question - which progressive, degenerative disease has
a faster mortality timeline than some cancers? Yet, even though untreated PAH
will claim the lives of between 40 to 55 per cent of patients within the first
two years after diagnosis(1), patients continue to be diagnosed late.
"The difficulty in diagnosing PAH lays in the non-specific nature of
symptoms - unexplained shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, intolerance
to exercise, dizziness, fainting and swollen feet and/or ankles," states Dr.
John T. Granton, Programme Director, Critical Care Medicine, University of
Toronto and Director, Pulmonary Hypertension Programme, University Health
Network. "Often when patients present with these symptoms, our first instinct
as clinicians is to suspect asthma or cardiovascular disease. However when
these conditions have been excluded as a possibility we need to consider PAH
as a viable cause for their symptoms. The failure to recognize PAH as a
diagnosis has been devastating for many patients. The need to recognize this
condition is made even more important with the advent of successful medical
and surgical therapies that are available in specialized treatment centres
across the country.
In attempt to raise awareness around the signs and symptoms of the
disease, as well as the dangers of remaining untreated, the newly-formed PH
Association of Canada has named November PAH Awareness Month. "It is integral
for Canadians to understand the signs and symptoms of PAH, as early diagnosis
and intervention is imperative to provide patients the best medical care,
ultimately giving patients a better chance of survival," says Darren Bell,
President of the PH Association of Canada, and father of Dylan H. Bell who
passed away this past summer from PAH.
PAH is characterized by the constriction of blood vessels that carry
blood from the heart to the lungs. As these arteries and vessels start to
narrow, it becomes more difficult for the heart to pump blood through them,
leading to progressive stress on the heart. If this narrowing of the blood
vessels is left untreated the heart begins to enlarge and eventually fails.
From a patient perspective, this means impaired functional capacity and a
decreased quality of life. "I always have to plan my day well in advance and
be aware of my surroundings because I simply don't have the energy level of
others," says Elizabeth McCall, a PAH patient from Victoria, British Columbia,
a founding member of the PH Association of Canada and the President of the
British Columbia Pulmonary Hypertension Society. "PAH affects all my
activities of daily living."
It is estimated that PAH affects somewhere in between 2,000 and 5,000
Canadians, with an annual incidence of 500 new cases. The disease knows no
boundaries affecting men, women and children of all ethnicities and ages. "All
Canadians should be aware of the early symptoms of PAH in order to give them a
fighting chance against the disease. Patients who experience disease symptoms
should speak to their doctors about the risks of PAH and therapy options
available," says Mr. Bell.
There are several therapy options currently approved for use in Canada
for patients with PAH. The primary goal of current therapy is to halt disease
progression, ultimately increasing a patient's ability to perform physical
activity. In order to do so, patients must begin therapy early.
"We have the data to show the benefits of early intervention in patients
with PAH and the therapies with which to treat them. We simply need to find
these patients in order to give them the best chance of survival," concludes
PH Association of Canada
The PH Association of Canada is a not-for-profit organization dedicated
to raising awareness and education around the seriousness of Pulmonary
Arterial Hypertension among the general public and health care professionals.
For more information on PAH, please visit www.phacanada.ca or
(1) D'Alonzo G, Barst RJ, Ayres SM, et al. Survival in patients with
primary pulmonary hypertension. Ann. Int. Med 1991;115:343 49.
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