Pulmonary Hypertension

The first steps to diagnosing PH are to collect a medical history and perform a complete physical exam. Additional testing may be required to help determine whether your child has PH and what may be causing it, including:

  • Doppler echocardiogram — This test uses sound waves to examine the heart's anatomy and function, and the estimated pressures on the right side of the heart. This is our most commonly used screening tool to detect PH.
  • Right heart catheterization — If an echocardiogram suggests pulmonary hypertension, the next step is right heart catheterization. This is the gold standard for diagnosing PH but is more invasive than the echocardiogram. During the test, a doctor threads a thin, flexible tube from blood vessels in the groin up to the right side of the heart. This allows us to measure blood pressure in the heart and lungs and can even find leaks between the heart's right and left sides.

If these tests definitively show pulmonary hypertension, your child may need a comprehensive work-up with some or all of the following:

  • Blood tests
  • Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — This noninvasive test uses a powerful magnetic field and radio waves to produce images of your child's heart and pulmonary arteries.
  • Cardiopulmonary exercise test — This test measures how well the heart and lungs work while your child is exercising on a treadmill or stationary bike.
  • Chest X-ray — This imaging allows us to check for enlargement of the heart and pulmonary arteries. It can also reveal some forms of lung disease.
  • Chest CT scan — This test produces two-dimensional images of the arteries and lungs. It may reveal blood clots in the pulmonary arteries or lung abnormalities that might not show up on an X-ray.
  • Electrocardiogram — This test measures the heart's electrical activity and can help detect right heart enlargement.
  • Genetic tests — Some cases of pulmonary hypertension are caused by a genetic predisposition, even if there is not a strong family history of the disease.
  • Pulmonary function tests — These tests measure how much air your child's lungs can hold.
  • Six-minute walk — This test measures how far your child can walk in six minutes, while his or her heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen saturation levels are monitored.
  • Perfusion scan — This test reveals how blood flow varies within your child's lungs.

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.

Related Information

UCSF Clinics & Centers

Pulmonary Hypertension Program
1825 Fourth St., Sixth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone: (415) 476-3679
Fax: (415) 476-5363
Appointment information