Pulmonary arterial hypertension took the life of singer Natalie Cole

U-M expert weighs in on the disease


The recent death of singer Natalie Cole from complications of pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) has raised many questions about this rare lung disease.

Dr. Vallerie McLaughlin, director of the Pulmonary Hypertension Program at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center, offers insight into this challenging disease:

  • Approximately 25 to 50 people per million have pulmonary arterial hypertension.
  • The condition predominantly affects women in their 40s and 50s. In fact, women diagnosed with PAH outnumber men with the condition 3:1.
  • Shortness of breath is the most common symptom. Others include lightheadedness, fatigue, chest pain and lower extremity edema.
  • Diagnosis is typically suspected based on an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) and confirmed with a right heart catheterization.

  • Approximately 13 FDA-approved therapies exist to treat and manage the condition (most developed in the last two decades).
  • The mortality rate for PAH is approximately 10 percent per year. It is important to be diagnosed early and to be seen at a specialty center where specialists and your local physician can work together.
  • Pulmonary arterial hypertension can have no known cause, can be genetic, can be caused by drugs or toxins or can occur because of an underlying disease or issue, including:
  • Pulmonary hypertension is also a common complication of other disorders, including left heart disease, lung disease and sleep-disordered breathing. Chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension is caused by blood clots in the lungs.

Take the next step:

Frankel-informal-vertical-sigThe University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is a top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit our website at umcvc.org.