The University of Chicago Medicine is the first Comprehensive Pulmonary Hypertension Care Center in Illinois to be recognized by the Pulmonary Hypertension Association’s accreditation program. The goal of the program is to improve outcomes for patients with pulmonary hypertension, a debilitating disease of the circulation of the lung. If left untreated, it can lead to right-heart failure and death.
Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is a rare but life-threatening progressive disorder. Symptoms include breathlessness, fatigue, dizziness and chest pain. It affects about 10 out of a million people.
“There is an urgent need to detect, diagnose, treat and provide support for patients with pulmonary hypertension,” said Remzi Bag, MD, associate professor of medicine, director of Pulmonary Hypertension Center and medical director of the lung transplant program at the University of Chicago. “Our hope is that accreditation by the PHA raises our profile, helping us connect with healthcare professionals throughout our community to ensure that more people living with pulmonary hypertension receive the right diagnosis early and get the best care available.”
“For best patient outcomes, we emphasize a multidisciplinary approach with collaboration of related specialties such as pulmonary, cardiology, rheumatology, critical care and transplantation within the institution” Dr. Bag said. “We are involved in research looking for better treatment options and testing new drugs and have many clinical trials open for enrollment.”
“We also have a dedicated team of nurses who focus on patient care for PH,” he said. “We partner with the patients and their families. We collaborate with referring physicians in the diagnosis and long term care of the patient.”
In pulmonary hypertension, the vessels that carry blood from the heart to the lungs constrict. Their walls thicken; this narrows the opening and reduces blood flow. Pressures within the arteries build up, requiring the heart to pump harder to push blood through the narrowed tubes through the lungs.
Eventually the heart can no longer keep up. Less and less blood can go through the lungs, the right side of the heart enlarges to try to overcome the pressure, and damage to the overworked heart accumulates. Because of the constant overload, the heart muscle gets weak over time, leading to heart failure.
The median time from the first symptoms to a diagnosis of PAH now exceeds two years. Many patients see three or more different physicians before they are properly diagnosed.
“As a comprehensive center, our program has many years of experience in diagnosing and treating pulmonary hypertension with all the approved medications,” said Sandra Coslet, RN, MSN, MBA, nursing manager for the Pulmonary Hypertension Center.
Accreditation as a Comprehensive Pulmonary Hypertension Care Center means a program demonstrates a dedication to making a proper diagnosis and has the capacity to appropriately and comprehensively manage PAH patients through a set of criteria established by the PHA’s Scientific Leadership Council and the PHCC Oversight Committee – comprised of members that are global leaders in the field of pulmonary hypertension.
“Living with a life-threatening illness like pulmonary hypertension means that I need to be prepared for a medical emergency every day,” said Whitney Gaspar, a PAH patient cared for at the University of Chicago. “Knowing that I am receiving world-class treatment at the University of Chicago allows me to live my life with the peace of mind of a healthy person. The team at the PH Center has become a part of my extended family. They have created a community of patients that are on-call to help support one another through this journey.”