Pulmonary hypertension in rheumatic diseases: epidemiology and pathogenesis

Rheumatol Int. 2013 Jul;33(7):1655-67. doi: 10.1007/s00296-012-2659-y. Epub 2013 Jan 19.


The focus of this review is to increase awareness of pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) in patients with rheumatic diseases. Epidemiology and pathogenesis of PAH in rheumatic diseases is reviewed, with recommendations for early screening and diagnosis and suggestion of possible role of immunosuppressive therapy in treatment for PAH in rheumatic diseases. A MEDLINE search for articles published between January 1970 and June 2012 was conducted using the following keywords: pulmonary hypertension, scleroderma, systemic sclerosis, pulmonary arterial hypertension, connective tissues disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, mixed connective tissue disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren's syndrome, vasculitis, sarcoidosis, inflammatory myopathies, dermatomyositis, ankylosing spondylitis, spondyloarthropathies, diagnosis and treatment. Pathogenesis and disease burden of PAH in rheumatic diseases was highlighted, with emphasis on early consideration and workup of PAH. Screening recommendations and treatment were touched upon. PAH is most commonly seen in systemic sclerosis and may be seen in isolation or in association with interstitial lung disease. Several pathophysiologic processes have been identified including an obliterative vasculopathy, veno-occlusive disease, formation of microthrombi and pulmonary fibrosis. PAH in systemic lupus erythematosus is associated with higher prevalence of antiphospholipid and anticardiolipin antibodies and the presence of Raynaud's phenomenon. Endothelial proliferation with vascular remodeling, abnormal coagulation with thrombus formation and immune-mediated vasculopathy are the postulated mechanisms. Improvement with immunosuppressive medications has been reported. Pulmonary fibrosis, extrinsic compression of pulmonary arteries and granulomatous vasculitis have been reported in patients with sarcoidosis. Intimal and medial hyperplasia with luminal narrowing has been observed in Sjogren's syndrome, mixed connective tissue disease and inflammatory myopathies. Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) associated with rheumatic diseases carries a particularly grim prognosis with faster progression of disease and poor response to therapy. Though largely associated with systemic sclerosis, it is being increasingly recognized in other rheumatic diseases. An underlying inflammatory component may explain the poor response to therapy in patients with rheumatic diseases and is a rationale for consideration of immunosuppressive therapy in conjunction with vasodilator therapy in treatment for PAH. Further studies identifying pathogenetic pathways and possible targets of therapy, especially the role of immunomodulatory medications, are warranted.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antihypertensive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Familial Primary Pulmonary Hypertension
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / diagnosis
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / drug therapy
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / epidemiology*
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Rheumatic Diseases / diagnosis
  • Rheumatic Diseases / drug therapy
  • Rheumatic Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vasodilator Agents / therapeutic use


  • Antihypertensive Agents
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Vasodilator Agents