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.

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The ABCs of Heart Tests

CTs, MRIs, EKGs, ECGs and More

ABCs blogMRI? CT? ECG? What are all these tests and what does it all mean? Here’s a guide to the many different heart tests your doctor may order and what they’re designed to do.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

A noninvasive test that uses a magnetic field and radiofrequency waves to create detailed pictures of organs and structures inside your body. It can be used to examine your heart and blood vessels, and to identify areas of the brain affected by stroke. MRI is also sometimes called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) imaging.

Reasons for the test:

  • Assess heart structure
  • Determine the health of the heart valves

CT scan

An X-ray imaging technique that uses a computer to produce cross-sectional images. Also referred to as cardiac computed tomography, computerized axial tomography or CAT scan, it can be used to examine the heart and blood vessels for problems. It is also used to identify the blood vessels in the brain affected by stroke.

Reasons for the test:

  • To assess the structure of the heart
  • To determine if blockages are present


Uses sound waves to produce images of your heart. This common test allows your doctor to see how your heart is beating and pumping blood. Your doctor can use the images from an echocardiogram to identify various abnormalities in the heart muscle and valves.

Reasons for the test:

  • Determine the cause of a heart murmur
  • Track heart valve disease
  • Assess the overall function of the heart

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