New hope for sufferers of pulmonary hypertension

Professor Norm Morris and Cadel Evans with Wendy Strugnal, the Director of MRI services at The Prince Charles Hospital

An aim to improve the outlook for people suffering from pulmonary hypertension is the focus of research at Griffith University.

Pulmonary hypertension occurs when the pressure of the blood travelling between the heart and the lungs, becomes excessive.

Whilst still a relatively rare disease, many subgroups of patients such as those with connective tissue diseases and chronic lung disease, are at increased risk of developing pulmonary hypertension.

A key feature of the condition is a marked decrease in exercise tolerance and an increased shortness of breath on mild exertion.

New research led by Professor Norm Morris from the Griffith Health Institute’s Heart Foundation Research Centre has devised a simple, but effective way of evaluating the severity of pulmonary hypertension during exercise which may assist in the diagnosis and long-term management of this condition.

Better prediction of disease severity

By adding simple measurements of gas exchange to a standard clinical outcome measure, the Six Minute Walk Test, Professor Morris has shown it is able to better predict disease severity in patients with pulmonary hypertension.

“The prognosis for pulmonary hypertension is unfortunately very poor,” said Professor Morris, speaking from The Prince Charles Hospital (TPCH) Brisbane, where he is promoting a new and exciting cardiac magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI) machine with 2011 Tour de France champion Cadel Evans.

As an ambassador for the promotion of sustainability with Siemens Australia, Evans is promoting the use of this device for measuring athlete performance and to drive clinical research and understanding of complex diseases such as pulmonary hypertension, particularly during exercise.

Now the research undertaken by Professor Morris and his team is entering a new and exciting stage which will see them comparing their results with those obtained during exercise trials in the cardiac MRI machine.

“This state-of-the-art system at TPCH is the only one in Australia in which patients can exercise and simultaneously have cardiac MRI,” he said.

“The cardiac MRI is definitely the gold standard, non-invasive way of measuring cardiac function during exercise.

“However, the high cost of this technology and the fact that it is available in only a very few regions of the country mean that assessibility for pulmonary hypertension patients is difficult.

“By combining simple gas exchange measures with a standard clinical measure, the Six Minute Walk Test, we believe that in the future we may provide health professionals witha far simpler and cheaper way of evaluating the severity of diseases such as pulmonary hypertension.

“If we can help to diagnose this severe condition earlier, we can also provide a better quality of life for patients too.”