VANCOUVER, Nov. 6, 2008/CNW – Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension (PAH) is a rapidly progressive, degenerative disease that will claim the lives of 40 to 55 per cent of patients within the first two years of diagnosis(1), yet according to a 2008 consumer awareness survey conducted by Ipsos Reid, almost two-thirds of Canadians are not familiar with its existence.
Furthermore, with 87 per cent of the population unable to explain, or explain with difficulty, the differences between pulmonary arterial hypertension and systemic hypertension, this could be further indicative of lower levels of awareness of PAH among Canadians.
The generality of PAH symptoms combined with the apparent lack of awareness makes the disease very difficult to diagnose, in turn, preventing individuals from having a conversation with their doctors.
“The results of the survey, while not surprising, are disturbing,” says Dr. John T. Granton, Programme Director, Critical Care Medicine, University of Toronto and Director, Pulmonary Hypertension Programme, University Health Network. “The first step in diagnosing PAH is recognizing the symptoms, and this profound lack of awareness may cause a delay in detection. The longer that PAH goes undiagnosed, there is an increased risk that it will have devastating effects on a patient’s health and quality of life, potentially causing death within a short period of time.”
Despite the seriousness surrounding the impact of PAH, survey results show that only 22 per cent of Canadians were able to correctly identify dizziness as a symptom of PAH, and only 24 per cent of respondents correctly named fatigue as a symptom.
“November is PAH Awareness Month, which provides the perfect opportunity to grow the knowledge base among Canadians and their physicians surrounding the symptoms, scope and rapid progression of this disease,” says Darren Bell, President of the PH Association of Canada.
PAH may affect between 2,000 and 10,000 Canadians with approximately 500 new cases being diagnosed each year. PAH is characterized by the narrowing 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.
Symptoms associated with PAH include unexplained shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, intolerance to exercise, dizziness, fainting and swollen feet and/or ankles. These symptoms can strike anyone at any time despite age, gender, or ethnicity.
With the ability of PAH to touch the life of any Canadian, it may be disturbing to learn that, according to Ipsos Reid, 44 per cent of the population see PAH as a disease affecting mainly men over 45 years old, and only 13 per cent of Canadian believe that PAH can cause fatality within a short period of time. “These are dangerous misconceptions,” says Bell, who in July, 2007 lost his son, Dylan, 12, to PAH. “If individuals don’t believe that they fit the ‘profile’ of a PAH sufferer, then they will be indifferent to the symptoms.”
Early diagnosis and treatment are imperative in helping to stabilize the progression of PAH. There are several therapies approved for use in Canada for PAH. Finding the patients, however, is the key, according to Dr. Granton. “Early intervention may lead to improved outcomes and better quality of life for patients with PAH. As such, Canadians, and more importantly physicians, need to arm themselves with the knowledge around PAH and if symptoms continue to elude common diagnoses, consider PAH as an option.”