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Cor Pulmonale: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

What is Cor Pulmonale?

Cor pulmonale is a condition affecting the left ventricle of the heart, affecting its functioning and structure. It is mostly caused due to overload of pressure. It is also termed right-sided heart failure.

The right ventricle is the side of the heart that pumps blood to the lungs.

Cor Pulmonale: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Cor pulmonale can be acute or chronic.

Acute Cor Pulmonale: This condition develops suddenly and is mostly caused by massive pulmonary embolism. It occurs when the blood clot breaks and makes its way to the lungs via the bloodstream. This clot can cause lung damage. A small cot can be treated but a large clot may stop the flow of blood to the lungs and can be fatal.(1)

Chronic Cor Pulmonale: This condition can develop over time and is most commonly caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The chronic obstructive pulmonary disease leads to persistent respiratory symptoms and is caused by exposure to extremely noxious agents via breathing.

Cor pulmonale accounts for 6-7% of adult heart disease in the United States.(2)

Symptoms of Cor Pulmonale

The symptoms of cor pulmonale are similar to those of a hard workout, which is why they are not much noticeable in the beginning. These symptoms include:

Some other symptoms are:

  • Swelling in the ankles
  • Hoarseness
  • Coughing up of blood
  • Chest discomfort
  • Abnormal rapid breathing

How is Cor Pulmonale Diagnosed?

To diagnose cor pulmonale, a doctor performs a physical examination and orders medical testing.

The person is examined for the signs of fluid retention, abnormal heart rate, and protruding neck veins.

The test included in the diagnosis of cor pulmonale are:

The doctors included for the treatment of cor pulmonale include a cardiologist, a pulmonologist specializing in the respiratory system, an internist who specializes in conditions of internal organs, a radiologist, and an intensivist who specializes in the care of patients who are critically ill.

Swan-Ganz catheterization is a procedure used in diagnosing cor pulmonale. In it, a doctor inserts a right heart catheter to determine if there is any dysfunction in the right ventricle of the heart.

How is Cor Pulmonale Treated?

The main aim of doctors in the treatment of cor pulmonale is to improve oxygenation and ventricular function. The treatment includes:

Prescription Medications

There are a few prescription medications that can decrease blood pressure and improve oxygen flow to the lungs.

Blood thinners

These medications prevent the clotting of blood.


Diuretics are used to decrease fluid retention and also lower the level of sodium in the blood.

Oxygen Therapy

It is a treatment that involves breathing pure oxygen.


The advanced cases of cor pulmonale might need surgery that includes heart and lung transplant.

Complications of Cor Pulmonale

If proper treatment is not given, cor pulmonale may lead to the following complications:

  • Enlarged pulmonary artery
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Thickening of the walls of the right ventricle
  • Shock excessive body fluids
  • Death

The breathing difficulty caused by cor pulmonale can prove to be life-threatening if not treated properly.

How to Prevent Cor Pulmonale?

Cor pulmonale can be prevented by taking care of the heart and lungs that can be done by keeping a check on weight, exercising regularly, and eating a well-balanced diet.
A person should keep a focus on preventing the conditions causing cor pulmonale such as pulmonary hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and other similar conditions.

Preventing the onset of lung disease may help in preventing this condition. Lung condition can be reduced by quitting smoking, avoiding lung irritants such as chemical fumes, treating sleep apnea, maintaining a healthy weight and practicing breathing exercises.

Cor pulmonale affects the function of the right heart ventricle and is caused by respiratory conditions. If you need a lifestyle change to prevent these conditions, go ahead, it is worth it.

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:April 11, 2022

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