Diagnosis and Treatment of Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension: A Review

JAMA. 2022 Apr 12;327(14):1379-1391. doi: 10.1001/jama.2022.4402.


Importance: Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is a subtype of pulmonary hypertension (PH), characterized by pulmonary arterial remodeling. The prevalence of PAH is approximately 10.6 cases per 1 million adults in the US. Untreated, PAH progresses to right heart failure and death.

Observations: Pulmonary hypertension is defined by a mean pulmonary artery pressure greater than 20 mm Hg and is classified into 5 clinical groups based on etiology, pathophysiology, and treatment. Pulmonary arterial hypertension is 1 of the 5 groups of PH and is hemodynamically defined by right heart catheterization demonstrating a mean pulmonary artery pressure greater than 20 mm Hg, a pulmonary artery wedge pressure of 15 mm Hg or lower, and a pulmonary vascular resistance of 3 Wood units or greater. Pulmonary arterial hypertension is further divided into subgroups based on underlying etiology, consisting of idiopathic PAH, heritable PAH, drug- and toxin-associated PAH, pulmonary veno-occlusive disease, PAH in long-term responders to calcium channel blockers, and persistent PH of the newborn, as well as PAH associated with other medical conditions including connective tissue disease, HIV, and congenital heart disease. Early presenting symptoms are nonspecific and typically consist of dyspnea on exertion and fatigue. Currently approved therapy for PAH consists of drugs that enhance the nitric oxide-cyclic guanosine monophosphate biological pathway (sildenafil, tadalafil, or riociguat), prostacyclin pathway agonists (epoprostenol or treprostinil), and endothelin pathway antagonists (bosentan and ambrisentan). With these PAH-specific therapies, 5-year survival has improved from 34% in 1991 to more than 60% in 2015. Current treatment consists of combination drug therapy that targets more than 1 biological pathway, such as the nitric oxide-cyclic guanosine monophosphate and endothelin pathways (eg, ambrisentan and tadalafil), and has shown demonstrable improvement in morbidity and mortality compared with the previous conventional single-pathway targeted monotherapy.

Conclusions and relevance: Pulmonary arterial hypertension affects an estimated 10.6 per 1 million adults in the US and, without treatment, typically progresses to right heart failure and death. First-line therapy with drug combinations that target multiple biological pathways are associated with improved survival.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antihypertensive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Endothelin Receptor Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Endothelins / therapeutic use
  • Guanosine Monophosphate / therapeutic use
  • Heart Failure* / drug therapy
  • Heart Failure* / etiology
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / diagnosis
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / drug therapy
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / etiology
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Nitric Oxide / therapeutic use
  • Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension* / diagnosis
  • Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension* / drug therapy
  • Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension* / etiology
  • Tadalafil / therapeutic use
  • United States


  • Antihypertensive Agents
  • Endothelin Receptor Antagonists
  • Endothelins
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Tadalafil
  • Guanosine Monophosphate