The number of new referrals for patients with pulmonary hypertension has jumped 21 percent over the last five years, according to findings of a national audit published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

Pulmonary hypertension is a progressive disease caused by the narrowing or tightening of the pulmonary arteries around the heart, causing symptoms such as breathlessness, fatigue, weakness and angina. 

While options are available to address these symptoms there is currently no treatment that slows progression or cures the disease, and fewer than 40 percent of patients live beyond five years of diagnosis.

According to the audit, there were 2,151 first referrals for pulmonary hypertension in 2014/15, jumping more than a fifth from the figure of 1,789 back in 2010. 

A snapshot of the data also shows a 56 percent increase in the number of patients that were being treated at one of the UK’s eight specialist hypertension centres, reaching 6,671 in 2015 compared to 4,287 at the same date five years ago. 

The median age of patients treated with pulmonary hypertension drug therapies in was 59 years in 2015, the same as 2014, and the rate per million population referred to a specialist centre for is 82, highlighting how rare the disease is.

Five-year survival

Five-year survival was also reported for the first time since the audit began, varying from a median of four years and 213 days to two years and 13 days, depending on the type of pulmonary hypertension the patient had.

For idiopathic, heritable or anorexigen induced hypertension, median survival was four years and 104 days, connective tissue disease was three years and 335 days, left heart disease was four years and 213 days, and for lung disease it was two years and 13 days.

The report shows that “despite pulmonary hypertension being a rare disease, the number of new referrals for treatment is steadily rising”, said audit lead clinician, Simon Gibbs.

It also shows that specialist pulmonary hypertension centres are “having to deal with an increasing number of patients who need specialist treatments, reflecting an ever increasing awareness” of the condition.