Updated: Feb 3, 2019
Warm, gooey gel spreads across my chest as the ultrasound technician pushes a wand into my sternum. A picture of my heart shows up on the screen as we chitchat about current events and the weather. I have to keep quiet for the portion of the test that records my heartbeat. A soft thump comes out of the speakers, reminding me how amazing this organ is. Once a year, as a seasoned scleroderma patient, it’s imperative to make sure my heart is working correctly. Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PH) can appear in many scleroderma individuals, and echocardiograms are helpful to monitor progression.
Pulmonary hypertension develops when cells lining arterial walls are damaged due to overgrowth of collagen. It causes narrowing of the blood vessels in the lungs, which in turn forces the right side of the heart to pump harder. It is more common in those with limited scleroderma than diffuse.
There are a few telltale signs that should be addressed, if persistently experienced. Common symptoms include:
Shortness of breath
Swelling of feet or legs
Decreased pulmonary function test results (PFT)
According to the American Heart Association, our hearts pump up to 2,000 gallons of blood, daily. This muscle works tirelessly every day to keep us alive. It's detrimental to keep up with testing to make sure it is functioning properly. Fortunately, medical technology allows us to keep track of this.
Besides echocardiograms, these tests are also common:
Six-minute walk can also asses shortness of breath and how much oxygen is in the blood after exertion.
PFT’s help medical professionals understand how well oxygen is being transported through the lungs. These are routine, along with echo’s, for most patients.
Right-heart catheterization is the clearest way to see if PH is present. This is the most thorough test to measure many different blood volumes and pressures of the heart and lungs.
Electrocardiograms measure the electrical signals in your heart and can detect abnormal heartbeats
One of the most impactful ways to increase and strengthen circulation is with exercise. Any way you feel comfortable moving, can help slow the progression of these organ involvements. Scleroderma has a way of rapidly progressing, without warning and sometimes the damage done is irreversible. The goal is to keep your heart pumping strong and your lungs breathing along! Pulmonary rehab can be prescribed from a physician, or you can start your own exercise regimen.
When it comes to scleroderma we must test, asses, and do our best. It's easy to turn a blind eye to complications when the disease becomes overwhelming. But technology and research have given doctors the tools to fight cardiovascular progression.
The Sclero Connect is strictly an information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.