Severe Pulmonary Hypertension in COPD: Impact on Survival and Diagnostic Approach

Chest. 2022 Jul;162(1):202-212. doi: 10.1016/j.chest.2022.01.031. Epub 2022 Jan 31.


Background: Severe pulmonary hypertension (PH) is prognostically highly relevant in patients with COPD. The criteria for severe PH have been defined based on hemodynamic thresholds in right heart catheterization.

Research question: Can noninvasive clinical tools predict severe PH in patients with COPD? How does the mortality risk change with increasing severity of airflow limitation and pulmonary vascular disease?

Study design and methods: We retrospectively analyzed all consecutive patients with COPD with suspected PH undergoing in-depth clinical evaluation, including right heart catheterization, in our PH clinic between 2005 and 2018. Clinical variables potentially indicative of severe PH or death were analyzed using univariate and stepwise multivariate logistic regression and Cox regression analysis adjusted for age and sex.

Results: We included 142 patients with median FEV1 of 55.0% predicted (interquartile range [IQR], 42.4%-69.4% predicted) and mean pulmonary arterial pressure of 35 mm Hg (IQR, 27-43 mm Hg). A multivariate model combining echocardiographic systolic pulmonary arterial pressure of ≥ 56 mm Hg, N-terminal pro-brain natriuretic peptide (NT-proBNP) plasma levels of ≥ 650 pg/mL, and pulmonary artery (PA) to ascending aorta (Ao) diameter ratio on chest CT scan of ≥ 0.93 predicted severe PH with high positive and negative predictive values (both 94%). After correction for age and sex, both airflow limitation (P = .002; Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease [GOLD] stages 1-2 vs stage 3: hazard ratio [HR], 1.56 [95% CI, 0.90-2.71]; GOLD stages 1-2 vs stage 4: HR, 3.45 [95% CI, 1.75-6.79]) and PH severity (P = .012; HR, 1.85 [95% CI, 1.15-2.99]) remained associated independently with survival. The combination of GOLD stages 3 and 4 airflow limitation and severe PH showed the poorest survival (HR for death, 3.26 [95% CI, 1.62-6.57; P = .001] vs GOLD stages 1-2 combined with nonsevere PH).

Interpretation: In patients with COPD, the combination of echocardiography, NT-proBNP level, and PA to Ao diameter ratio predicts severe PH with high sensitivity and specificity. The contribution of severe PH and severe airflow limitation to impaired survival is comparable.

Keywords: COPD; heart catheterization; pulmonary hypertension.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary* / complications
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary* / etiology
  • Lung
  • Pulmonary Artery
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive* / complications
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive* / diagnosis
  • Retrospective Studies