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Cor Pulmonale

Pulmonary Heart Disease

Cor pulmonale is defined as an alteration in the structure and function of the right ventricle of the heart as a response to a disorder of the respiratory system. The chronic form usually leads to right ventricular hypertrophy, the acute form results in dilatation.


The symptoms of cor pulmonale, pulmonary heart disease vary as the disorder progresses. Individuals may be asymptomatic in the early stages or symptoms will suggest other milder conditions. However, as the disease progresses symptoms become more severe but vary between patients. Symptoms of pulmonary heart disease may include [2] [3] [14]:

Physical indicators of cor pulmonale on exam[3][14]:

Pulmonary heart disease can lead to congestive heart failure (CHF) [3]. The symptoms of congestive heart failure include[1][3]:

  • Worsening of respiratory symptoms
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Peripheral edema 
  • Congestive hepatomegaly

Complications of cor pulmonale include [1] [3] congestive heart failure and liver cirrhosis due to chronic congestion in the systemic venous system, liver hypoxia and fatty liver changes.

  • Symptoms of CPM include fatigue, lethargy, dypsnoea on exertion, tachypnoea, chest pain, exertional syncope, dyspnoea at rest, nonproductive cough, haemoptysis, hoarseness, and anorexia.[link.springer.com]
  • Symptoms include chronic cough, shortness of breath on exertion, fatigue, and other signs of oxygen lack to the body tissues.[curlie.org]
  • Symptoms include chest pain, fatigue, syncope, dyspnea on exertion, cough, hypoxemia, hemoptysis, cyanosis, and peripheral edema. Acute presentations may also present with pallor, diaphoresis, hypotension, and tachycardia.[visualdx.com]
  • A person with cor pulmonale has a chronic cough, experiences difficulty in breathing after exertion, wheezes, and is weak and easily fatigued.[britannica.com]
Pulmonary Valve Stenosis
  • Pulmonary valve stenosis. Congestive cardiac failure due to primary cardiological disease. Congenital right-sided cardiac impairment. Right-sided heart failure due to right-ventricular myocardial infarction. Ventricular septal defect.[medigoo.com]
  • The Right Ventricle in Pulmonary Hypertension The right ventricle is exposed to pressure overload by pulmonary valve stenosis or by chronic pulmonary hypertension from any cause ( Table 1 ).[circ.ahajournals.org]
  • METHODS AND RESULTS: We report the case of a 40-year-old woman who died after 3 days of progressive dyspnea, cough, and pulmonary hypertension.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • A 64-year-old female suffering from a subacute progressive cough and shortness of breathing died of severe pulmonary hypertension seven days after admission. Neither chest CT scans nor lung perfusion scintigraphy showed any abnormal findings.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • A 9-year-old Malay girl with a history of recurrent cough and wheezing was admitted because of cardiac failure.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • Symptoms of CPM include fatigue, lethargy, dypsnoea on exertion, tachypnoea, chest pain, exertional syncope, dyspnoea at rest, nonproductive cough, haemoptysis, hoarseness, and anorexia.[link.springer.com]
  • METHODS AND RESULTS: We report the case of a 40-year-old woman who died after 3 days of progressive dyspnea, cough, and pulmonary hypertension.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • Abstract A 25-year-old woman with acute dyspnea was found to have nodular shadows in a chest X-ray film. Multiple defects in a perfusion scan indicated pulmonary embolization.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • We report the case of a 37-yr-old woman presenting with dyspnea who died of cor pulmonale. Autopsy revealed signet cell carcinoma of te stomach with intra-abdominal metastasis and right ventricular hypertrophy.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • Abstract Progressive dyspnea developed in a 36-year-old woman. Physical examination and chest roentgenogram showed the signs of pulmonary hypertension. She died of respiratory failure in spite of treatment.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • The most common initial clinical symptom is subacute progressive dyspnea, and the initial laboratory evaluation typically shows hypoxemia in a patient with clear lung fields on a chest roentgenogram.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
Chronic Cough
  • Symptoms include chronic cough, shortness of breath on exertion, fatigue, and other signs of oxygen lack to the body tissues.[curlie.org]
  • A person with cor pulmonale has a chronic cough, experiences difficulty in breathing after exertion, wheezes, and is weak and easily fatigued.[britannica.com]
  • These may include chronic coughing, wheezing, weakness, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Edema (abnormal buildup of fluid), weakness, and discomfort in the upper chest may be evident in cor pulmonale.[encyclopedia.com]
Exertional Dyspnea
  • The patient developed progressive exertional dyspnea, with clinical and laboratory findings of right-sided heart failure and pulmonary hypertension.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • Nonspecific: fatigue, tachypnea, exertional dyspnea, cough, anginal chest pain, hemoptysis, hoarseness What nonspecific signs may indicate underlying lung disease Increase in chest diameter, labored respiratory efforts with chest wall retractions, distended[quizlet.com]
  • Symptoms and Signs The predominant symptoms of compensated cor pulmonale are related to the pulmonary disorder and include chronic productive cough, exertional dyspnea, wheezing respirations, easy fatigability, and weakness.[health.am]
  • The patient may complain of fatigue, tachypnea, exertional dyspnea, and cough. Anginal chest pain also can occur and may be due to right ventricular ischemia or pulmonary artery stretching and usually does not respond to nitrates.[medictests.com]
  • Help reduce the patient’s fear of exertional dyspnea by providing thoughtful care that builds trust. Encourage the patient to progress in small increments.[medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com]
Sputum Production
  • Preview A 52-year-old Caucasian man comes to the office due to 3 days of progressive dyspnea and purulent sputum production. The patient takes albuterol and tiotropium bromide for moderate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.[osmosis.org]
  • Teach the patient and family the signs and symptoms of infection, such as increased sputum production, change in sputum color, increased coughing or wheezing, chest pain, fever, and tightness in the chest.[medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com]
Heart Disease
  • disease cardiopulmonary disease cardiac lung disease Heart Disease, Pulmonary Heart Diseases, Pulmonary Pulmonary Heart Diseases Diseases, Pulmonary Heart Cor Pulmonale Disease, Pulmonary Heart edit English cor pulmonale congestive heart failure that[wikidata.org]
  • […] pulmonary heart disease.[en.wikipedia.org]
  • , Pulmonary , Heart Diseases, Pulmonary , Pulmonary Heart Disease , Pulmonary Heart Diseases , COR PULMONALE , Pulmonary heart disease, unspecified , cardiopulmonary disease , DISEASES PULM HEART , PULM HEART DISEASES , HEART DIS PULM , HEART DISEASES[fpnotebook.com]
  • Author information 1 Department of Pathology, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick, NJ 08903, USA. [email protected] Abstract A 12-year-old boy presented acutely after an episode of syncope with perioral cyanosis.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • A 57-year-old man with deep vein thrombosis in his left calf developed acute progressive dyspnea with hypoxemia, cyanosis and the clinical picture of acute cor pulmonale, while he was on full heparinization.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • Physical examination revealed a very sick girl with tachypnoea, central cyanosis, finger clubbing, elevated jugular venous pulse, generalized crackles and rhonchi in the chest, a loud second heart sound and hepatosplenomegaly.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • Abstract Two patients with schistosomal cor pulmonale and central cyanosis were studied by contrast-enhanced echocardiography, using indocyanine green injection. Intrapulmonary shunts were detected by this method.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • Right-sided heart failure and cyanosis were the most common clinical presentations. Secondary polycythemia was noted in 32 of 40 patients (80%).[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
Distended Neck Veins
  • Examination reveals cyanosis, distended neck veins, and a prominent epigastric pulsation Cor pulmonale is right ventricular enlargement and eventually failure secondary to a lung disorder that causes pulmonary artery hypertension.[smartypance.com]
  • neck veins with prominent a or v waves, and cyanosis may be seen. the heart and lung are intricately related. whenever the heart is affected by disease, the lungs will follow and vice versa. pulmonary heart disease is by definition a condition when the[allnurses.com]
  • The signs of cor pulmonale include cyanosis, clubbing, distended neck veins, right ventricular heave or gallop (or both), prominent lower sternal or epigastric pulsations, an enlarged and tender liver, and dependent edema. B.[health.am]
  • Distended neck veins. Bluish skin. Chest pain. Enlarged liver and swollen abdomen.[nmihi.com]
Increased Jugular Venous Pressure
  • jugular venous pressure Hepatomegaly Cyanosis Abnormal heart sounds Physical indicators of cor pulmonale on exam: Pulmonary hypertension Right ventricular hypertrophy Right ventricular failure Increased chest diameter Labored respirations with retractions[symptoma.com]
  • CLINICAL ASSESSMENT OF COR PULMONALE: PLACE OF NON-INVASIVE METHODS The clinical signs of cor pulmonale are relatively insensitive 6 and some of them (signs related to an increased jugular venous pressure) are often obscured by hyperinflation of the chest[doi.org]
Hepatojugular Reflux
  • Physical exam shows barrel shaped chest, inspiratory crackles, hepatojugular reflux, pulsus paradoxus, and ventricular gallop.[osmosis.org]
  • Increased right atrial pressures may lead to dependent edema, hepatojugular reflux, and ascites.[javed-abbas.tripod.com]
  • Hepatojugular reflux and pulsatile liver are signs of RV failure with systemic venous congestion. In severe disease, ascites can also be present. Examination of the lower extremities reveals evidence of pitting edema.[emedicine.medscape.com]
  • Findings include peripheral edema, neck vein distention, hepatomegaly, and a parasternal lift. Diagnosis is clinical and by echocardiography. Treatment is directed at the cause.[merckmanuals.com]
Pulsatile Liver
  • Hepatojugular reflux and pulsatile liver are signs of RV failure with systemic venous congestion. In severe disease, ascites can also be present. Examination of the lower extremities reveals evidence of pitting edema.[emedicine.medscape.com]


The diagnosis of cor pulmonale clinically may be difficult because its symptoms are similar to those of any pulmonary or cardiac disorder. Diagnosis of pulmonary heart disease depends on the presence of both pulmonary hypertension and right ventricular hypertrophy. These two signs can be detected by the following studies [3] [8] [11]:

  • Routine laboratory tests: PaO2, PCO2, hematocrit, coagulation studies, renal function
  • Brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) levels
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Chest X-ray
  • Pulmonary function tests
  • Echocardiogram
  • Computed tomography
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Cardiac catheterization which allows measurement of pressures in the lung and heart

The diagnosis of pulmonary hypertension traditionally is depended on measurements taken during invasive cardiac catheterisation [4] [11]. An increased mean pulmonary arterial pressure is characteristic of pulmonary hypertension [4]. The development of non-invasive methods to measure pulmonary hypertension using magnetic resonance imaging imaging alone is being researched [3]. Magnetic resonance imaging can measure mean pulmonary arterial pressure as well as evaluate vascular anatomy and blood flow patterns [4].
Plasma brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) may be a reliable and accurate diagnostic test for pulmonary hypertension and right ventricular dysfunction [3]. It is a cardiac hormone which is produced by the ventricle and secreted in response to increased ventricular stretch and tension [1] [3]. There is a significant correlation between brain natriuretic peptide levels and pulmonary hypertension determined by echocardiography [3].

Chest X-ray will show right ventricular hypertrophy, right atrial dilatation, and a prominent pulmonary artery [3]. Pulmonary fields show reduced vasculature, hyperinflation, increased translucency of the lung and/or a flattening of the diaphragm [3] [8]. Echocardiogram shows indications of right ventricular hypertrophy, right axis deviation, and mitral valve abnormalities[8]. Findings differ from patient to patient. Two-dimensional (2-D) echocardiography may demonstrate increased right ventricle wall thickness asign of chronic right ventricular pressure overload [8]. Doppler echocardiography can estimate pulmonary arterial pressure and is the most reliable noninvasive means to do this [2]. High-resolution echocardiography and magnetic resonance imaging can accurately measure pulmonary pressure, however, right heart catheterization is still considered the most precise method for diagnosis and evaluation of pulmonary hypertension [2] [3].

Right Axis Deviation
  • Electrocardiography and Chest X-Ray The ECG may show right axis deviation and peaked P waves. Deep S waves are present in lead V6. Right axis deviation and low voltage may be noted in patients with pulmonary emphysema.[health.am]
  • ECG evidence of RV hypertrophy (eg, right axis deviation, QR wave in lead V 1 , and dominant R wave in leads V 1 to V 3 ) correlates well with degree of pulmonary hypertension.[merckmanuals.com]
  • Electrocardiography shows the appearance of flat or inverted T waves in the right ventricular precordial leads, right axis deviation of greater than 30 in the mean electrical axis of the QRS, transient S-T depression of leads II, III, and aVF, and transient[rjoson.tripod.com]
Poor R Wave Progression
  • R wave progression RAE with and RVH multifocal atrial tachycardia return to top Differential Diagnosis return to top Treatments Consequences and Course return to top The Case of...[sharinginhealth.ca]
Right Bundle Branch Block
  • In chronic pulmonary heart disease : right ventricular hypertrophy, right bundle branch block, P wave of pulmonary type, sinus tachycardia, atrial or ventricular arrhythmias.[doctortipster.com]
  • bundle branch block. 6.[rjoson.tripod.com]
  • bundle branch block In some cases, P pulmonale S1Q3 pattern in acute cor pulmonale Chest x-ray Additional tests to screen for underlying cause Laboratory: HIV test , liver function tests ( portopulmonary hypertension ), ANAs ( connective tissue diseases[amboss.com]
  • Electrocardiographic findings in 67,375 asymptomatic subjects, VI: right bundle branch block. Am J Cardiol . 1960 ; 6 :143–152. Crossref Medline Google Scholar 18 Fisch C. Electrocardiography and vectorcardiography. In: Braunwald E, ed.[ahajournals.org]
  • Related Topics Right axis deviation Low voltage QRS complexes Right atrial enlargement (P pulmonale) Right ventricular hypertrophy Right bundle branch block References Harrigan RA, Jones K. ABC of clinical electrocardiography.[lifeinthefastlane.com]
Incomplete Right Bundle Branch Block
  • ECG shows the following changes: In acute pulmonary heart disease : right axial deviation, complete or incomplete right bundle branch block, sinus tachycardia, reversal of T waves in right chest leads.[doctortipster.com]
  • right bundle branch block Changes in cardiac conduction due to right-sided hypertrophy Echocardiography Normal heart size To show ventricular hypertrophy, decreased contractility, and valvular disorders in both right and left ventricular failure Demonstrates[medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com]
P Pulmonale
  • […] factors include: Investigations available to determine the cause of cor pulmonale include the following: Chest x-ray – right ventricular hypertrophy, right atrial dilatation, prominent pulmonary artery ECG – right ventricular hypertrophy, dysrhythmia, P[en.wikipedia.org]
  • Tall tented p-pulmonale may also be seen. 3) Echocardiography may show dilatation and also allows indirect measurement of pulmonary artery pressures.[myvmc.com]
  • ECG shows tall, peaked P waves (P pulmonale), right axis deviation, and right ventricular hypertrophy. Chest x-ray: Enlarged right ventricle and pulmonary artery.[health.am]
  • […] test ) mPAP 25 mmHg at rest Pulmonary capillary wedge pressure : 15 mmHg in PH due to left heart disease Electrocardiography : right axis deviation due to right ventricular hypertrophy Incomplete or complete right bundle branch block In some cases, P[amboss.com]
Prominent A-Wave
  • On electrocardiogram, there was right axis deviation, p-pulmonale, features of right ventricular hypertrophy along with presence of prominent Q waves in leads II, III and aVF.[ijem.in]
  • The most typical ECG findings in emphysema are: Rightward shift of the P wave axis with prominent P waves in the inferior leads and flattened or inverted P waves in leads I and aVL.[lifeinthefastlane.com]
Right Ventricular Hypertrophy on ECG
  • Over time, this chronic elevation of pulmonary arterial pressures results in compensatory right atrial and right ventricular hypertrophy. Typical ECG Findings in COPD 1.[lifeinthefastlane.com]
Electrocardiogram Change
  • In both types, characteristic electrocardiogram changes occur, and in later stages there is usually right-sided cardiac failure. cor pulmonale (kôr′ po͝ol′mə-nä′lē, -năl′ē, pŭl′-) n.[medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com]


Elimination of the cause(s) of cor pulmonale is the most important intervention [2] [3]. Smoking cessation and/or elimination of exposure to second-hand smoke is the major preventive measure. Exposure to dust, toxic fumes, asbestos, toxic chemicals, and known allergens are also necessary [2]. Treatment of the underlying causative conditions is paramount to the prevention and treatment of cor pulmonale [3] [6]. The goals of interventions focus on the treatment of the underlying pulmonary disease and improving oxygenation and right ventricular function by increasing right ventricular contractility and decreasing pulmonary vasoconstriction by improving pulmonary blood flow, decreasing pulmonary vascular pressure, increasing cardiac out-put, and preventing hypoxemia and therefore prevent pulmonary vascular changes [5] [6].
Treatment regimes may include [1] [3] [6] [7]:

  • Long-term oxygen therapy
  • Calciumm channel blockers 
  • Phosphodiesterase inhibitors
  • Diuretics
  • Bronchodilators
  • Mucolytic medications
  • Anticoagulant therapy
  • Antibiotics with respiratory infections

Currently, long-term oxygen therapy is the primary treatment to prevent pulmonary hypertension since the major causative factor is alveolar hypoxia [1] [3] [6]. Oxygen therapy can stabilize or partially reverse pulmonary hypertension [1] [7]. It is unclear if this is the result of improved oxygenation, reduced systemic inflammation or reversal or stabilization of pulmonary hypertension [3] [8].

Oxygen therapy is almost always required to prevent hypoxemia that contributes to pulmonary vascular changes and cardiac ischemia [1] [6]. Oxygen at a rate of 2 litres per minute is recommended. Excessive oxygen can in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease who are chronically hypoxic. Sudden correction of hypoxia can remove the main stimulus to respiration and respiratory arrest can occur [3] [4] [7].

Treatment to prevent congestive heart failure requires diuretics, nitrates to improve cardiac out-put, and phosphodiesterase inhibitors to improve heart contractility [6] [8].
Anticoagulant therapy is recommended for all patients with primary pulmonary hypertension [11] [13] [15]. The goal of their use is to prevent thromboembolisms that are a frequent complication of pulmonary hypertension [13] [15] and a common cause of death in individuals suffering from cor pulmonale [11] [13].

Inhaled nitric oxide is a potent vasodilator. It must be used in conjunction with oxygen therapy it may worsen ventilation perfusion imbalance [3]. When it is used with oxygen there is significant improvement in pulmonary vascular resistance, pulmonary hypertension and cardiac output [3]. Sildenafil is a phosphodiesterase 5 inhibitor specific to pulmonary function. It causes vasodilation and increases the effects of inhaled nitric oxide [3] [5].

Diuretics are used to reduce right ventricular dilatation and improve cardiac output and reduce pulmonary edema [3]. They can cause volume depletion that decrease cardiac output so should be used cautiously [3]. Intravenous epoprostenol (Flolan) is used to improve symptoms and survival of patients with pulmonary hypertension [5]. It has been shown to be effective but their long-term efficacy is not known [5].

Bronchodilators are the primary treatment regime for COPD [6]. They can be combined with inhaled corticosteroids for better results and fewer side effects [6]. Nifedipine, a calcium antagonist, reduces both pulmonary and systemic vasomotor tone at rest and during exercise. It has been shown to increase resting cardiac output by 26% [7].
Theophylline has significant antiinflammatory effects in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [10]. It has been shown to restore steroid sensitivity [10]. The use of digoxin in the treatment of cor pulmonale is controversial. Research has shown that heart failure was significantly worsened in some patients, paticularly those with atrial fibrillation, and showed no improvement in other patients [9].

Polycythemia, an increased number of red blood cells in response to chronic hypoxemia, is a common occurrence in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [1] [3]. This increases blood viscosity decreasing pulmonary profusion and contributing to pulmonary hypertension. When the hematocrit is greater than 60% therapeutic phlebotomies is recommended to reduce the red blood cell count [3]. Losartan used weekly in escalating doses daily for 4 weeks caused a significant reduction in the hematocrit [3]. This ‘bloodless phlebotomy’ appears to be a promising therapy [3].

Lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS) reduces hyperinflation and improves gas exchange [1] [3]. It may result in better distribution of pulmonary blood flow and ventilation perfusion balance [3]. It is an extremely invasive intervention and should be reserved after other treatments have failed. Non-pharmacologic interventions for chronic pulmonary disease include long-term oxygen therapy, nasal positive pressure ventilation, pulmonary rehabilitation, lung-volume-reduction surgery and, most important, smoking cessation [6].


The development of cor pulmonale is associated with poor prognosis, increased cardiac death rate, and impaired health status from chronic respiratory disease [2] [3]. Two factors have been shown significant for prognosis in cor pulmonale; the pulmonary arterial oxygen saturation and the use of anticoagulant therapy [11]. In severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cor pulmonale activities of daily living, such as climbing stairs or walking, can be difficult and cause an acute episode of increased pulmonary hypertension [3].

Long-term oxygen therapy is the only treatment, apart from smoking cessation, that has been shown to improve survival rates in severe cases of chronic pulmonary disease and cor pulmonale [6]. Cor pulmonale, hypoproteinemia and a high PaCO2 level have been identified as risk factors for early readmission of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disese [16]. Readmission rate of about 6.8% have been reported [16].


Cor pulmonale and pulmonary hypertension are difficult to diagnose and to treat [12]. Untreated it is characterized by a progressive increase in pulmonary vascular resistance leading to right ventricular failure and death [12]. In the past decade there have been remarkable improvements in therapy for this disorder [12].
The heart and lungs are intricately connected. Pulmonary heart disease, by definition, indicates that the lungs cause the heart to fail [1] [2]. Two major causes of cor pulmonale are changes to the pulmonary vascular from tissue damage and chronic pulmonary vasoconstriction due to chronic hypoxemia [4]. Cigarette smoking and air pollution are the main risk factors for lung disease and the potential for developing cor pulmonale[1]. Cor pulmonale is a progressive disease and if left untreated results in significant disability, impaired quality of life, and eventually death [3].

The causes of cor pulmonale include [1] [4]:


It is difficult to determine the exact incidence of cor pulmonale [3]. The reported prevalence varies depending on the definition of pulmonary hypertension, the group studied, and the method of measuring [3]. Approximately 6-7% of all heart disease in adults in the United States is due to cor pulmonale[4]. More than 50% of cases of cor pulmonale are due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis or emphysema [1] [2]. The primary cause of these conditions is cigarette smoking [1]. About 15 million people in the United States suffer from chronic pulmonary disease [4].

Each year there are approximately 20,000 deaths and 280,000 hospital admissions due to pulmonary heart disease [1]. In patients experiencing pulmonary emboli who have a co-morbidity of chronic cor pulmonale the mortality rate may be as high as 17 to 30% higher than in patients with the co-morbidity [15].

Sex distribution
Age distribution


The heart is responsible for circulating blood throughout the body with the two ventricles acting as the pumps. The left ventricle pumps blood throughout the body. The right ventricle pumps blood to the lungs where it is oxygenated and then returned to the left heart for distribution [2]. Normally the pulmonary system offers minimal resistance. However with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and disorders that increase pulmonary vascular resistance, pulmonary hypertension occurs [1] [2].

The pathology of pulmonary hypertension is the result of pulmonary vascular vasoconstriction, smooth muscle cell proliferation, and thrombosis [5] [8]. These changes are due to an imbalance between vasodilators (prostacyclin, nitric oxide, vasoactive intestinal peptide) and vasoconstrictors (thromboxane A2, endothelin, serotonin) [8]. Current treatment is directed at restoring the balance between these factors [8].

Pulmonary hypertension is always the underlying pathology for right ventricular hypertrophy in cor pulmonale [3]. Hypertrophy is an adaptive response to chronic hypoxia. In order to provide the force required to move blood against the greater resistance in the pulmonary vasculature the right ventricle enlarges and the musculature thickens [2]. Acute, rather than chronic, pulmonary heart disease results in right ventricular dilatation [1] [3]. Dilatation is stretching of the musculature of the ventricle as due to a sudden increase in pulmonary pressure. This occurs from a pulmonary embolism or acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) [1]. Both of these occurrences result in decreased cardiac output and eventually right sided heart failure. If left untreated either will progress to congestive heart failure and death [2]. Several mechanisms lead to pulmonary hypertension and pulmonary heart disease including[5]:

Pulmonary hypertension in cor pulmonale is the result of hypoxia causing pulmonary vasoconstriction, polycythemia, and pulmonary vascular bed destruction [3] [5]. Pulmonary vasoconstriction is an adaptive response to divert blood from unventilated alveoli to maintain ventilation-perfusion balance and a normal PaO2 [3] [5] [8]. Pulmonary vascular remodeling due to chronic ischemia causes fibrosis and proliferation of smooth muscle of small pulmonary arteries [3]. These narrow, thickened pulmonary arteries are less compliant and increase resistance to blood flow [3].

In response to chronic hypoxemia the body produces an excess number of erythrocytes in an effort to increase the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood [1] [3]. The resulting polycythemia increases the viscosity of the blood decreasing blood flow throught the pulmonary vasculature even further. This impairs oxygenation and contributes to pulmonary hypertension[3] [5]. Pulmonary hyperinflation is also associated with pulmonary hypertension. Severe emphysema causes air-trapping that may play a role in the development of pulmonary hypertension [3]. Elevated brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) level may be a natural mechanism to compensate for pulmonary hypertension and right heart failure by promoting diuresis and natriuresis, vasodilating systemic and pulmonary vessels, and reducing circulating levels of endothelin and aldosterone[3].

In patients with advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, oxygen saturation falls during REM sleep by 20%–30% [3]. Nocturnal desaturation in COPD can lead to the development of pulmonary hypertension and cor pulmonale [3].


A majority of cases of cor pulmonale can be prevented by [1] [2]:

Correction of abnormal gas exchange and ventilation through oxygen supplementation and vasodilators can decrease pulmonary hypertension. Doing this will improve survival and quality of life for those with chronic pulmonary disease [3].


Cor pulmonale also known as pulmonary heart disease (Latin: cor- heart; pulmōnāle- of the lungs) refers to the interconnectedness of the pulmonary and cardiac systems. It is characterized by hypertrophy and failure of the right ventricle of the heart [1] [2]. The abnormalities in in the structure and function of the right ventricle in cor pulmonale occur in response to increased pulmonary vascular resistance and/or pulmonary hypertension [1] [3].

Pulmonary hypertension, a disabling chronic disorder of the pulmonary vasculature, is characterized by increased pulmonary artery pressure due to increased pulmonary vascular resistance [8]. Pulmonary hypertension is the most common cause of cor pulmonale, but a wide variety of cardiopulmonary disease processes can cause the condition [1] [3].
The course of cor pulmonale is usually chronic and it progresses slowly [1]. Cor pulmonale can be life-threatening if untreated. The major risk factors for lung disease are cigarette smoking and air pollution which are preventable [1]. Elimination of cigarette smoking, second-hand smoke and air pollution could significantly decreases the incidence of cor pulmonale.

Patient Information

What is cor pulmonale?

Cor pulmonale refers to heart disease that results from chronic pulmonary disease. It is characterized by pulmonary hypertension, elevated pressure within the blood vessels of the lungs, and enlargement and abnormal function of the right ventricle of the heart. The most common causes of cor pulmonale are chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, and pulmonary emboli (blood clots). If left untreated cor pulmonale will progress to heart failure and death.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of cor pulmonale are not specific but are similar to any heart of lung conditions. They include:

What causes cor pulmonale?

The most common causes are cigarette smoking and exposure to toxic fumes and particulates (asbestos, coal dust, chemicals). Pulmonary hypertension in cor pulmonale is the result of destruction of the cells and blood vessels of the lungs that narrows the pathways to the flow of blood. Enlargement and decreased function of the right ventricle of the heart is due to the increased work required by the right ventricle to push blood through these narrowed vessels.

Who gets cor pulmonale?

Cor pulmonale generally occurs in adults with chronic lung disease. The highest incidence in smokers and those with COPD and blood clots in the lungs.

How is it diagnosed?

Cor pulmonale is diagnosed by the presence of pulmonary hypertension and right ventricle enlargement. Pulmonary hypertension can be detected by measuring the pressure within the pulmonary arteries. This is done using cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and/or cardiac catherization. Right ventricular enlargement can be detected and measured using chest X-rays, electrocardiogram, and echocardiogram.

How is cor pulmonale treated?

Cor pulmonale is treated by treating the underlying pulmonary hypertension and preventing low oxygen levels and blot clot formation. Long-term oxygen therapy is the most efficient method of treatment. Other medications that may be used are hypertensive drugs, vasodilators, bronchodilators, diuretics, and anticoagulants.

What are the complications?

Complications of cor pulmonale include:

  • Difficulty completing activities of daily living
  • Decreased quality of life
  • Worsening of respiratory symptoms
  • Pneumonia
  • Edema of hands and feet and decreased circulation
  • Liver damage, liver failure

How can it  be prevented?

The primary way to prevent the condition is to prevent chronic ling disease. The best way of doing this is to:

  • Stop smoking
  • Prevent exposure to toxic chemicals and particulates which means using protective equipment
  • Control of COPD, chronic bronchitis, and asthma



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Last updated: 2018-06-22 12:16