Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension in Newborns (PPHN)

May 10, 2023
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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For parents of newborns, heart conditions are among the scariest problems you can encounter. Finding out your child has an issue like persistent pulmonary hypertension can bring tremendous anxiety and uncertainty about treating this condition and ensuring the best possible care for your little one. Although it is a serious condition, persistent pulmonary hypertension in newborns is treatable, especially when identified early.

This guide will help you understand the causes of persistent pulmonary hypertension and the options for treatment and caring for a child with this condition. With the proper steps, it’s possible for families facing this diagnosis to help their little ones have the healthiest and happiest possible childhood.

What is Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension?

Persistent pulmonary hypertension in newborns (PPHN) is a rare but serious condition. It is a form of high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, that affects the blood vessels in the lungs, or pulmonary vessels. When these blood vessels constrict, it can disrupt normal blood flow and cause problems due to the lack of oxygen in the body.

During development in the womb, a baby’s lungs are not fully functional. Blood flow bypasses the lungs through a blood vessel called the ductus arteriosus. After birth, this vessel should close, redirecting blood flow to the lungs to receive oxygen. When PPHN develops, the ductus arteriosus does not completely close. This causes high blood pressure in the lungs and decreased oxygen levels throughout the body due to disruption of blood flow.

Causes and Risk Factors of PPHN

PPHN is caused by a range of factors, including:

  • Meconium aspiration, which is the breathing in of bowel movements while in the womb
  • Infections
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Lung problems

In many cases, doctors cannot identify a direct cause of PPHN. Risk factors for developing the condition include:

  • Babies who are born oversized for their gestational age
  • Babies of mothers with certain conditions, such as diabetes
  • Babies with low oxygen levels in the womb

Symptoms of PPHN in Newborns

Common symptoms of PPHN to watch for include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Grunting or moaning during breathing
  • Elevated heart rate
  • A bluish tint to the skin
  • Low blood oxygen levels
  • Feeding difficulties

Diagnosing and treating PPHN as early as possible is essential to avoid potential complications, including failure to thrive, developmental delays, and heart or lung failure in the most serious cases.

Diagnosing PPHN

If there are any signs or symptoms of PPHN, doctors will usually take the following steps to diagnose the condition:

  • Discussion of symptoms
  • Review of medical history
  • Physical examination
  • Blood tests for oxygen level
  • Imaging studies, including echocardiography

Treatment Options for Newborns With Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension

Upon diagnosis, the most common treatment options include:

  • Oxygen therapy
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Medications to lower blood pressure in the lungs

In more severe cases, doctors may recommend a therapy known as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). This form of life support removes carbon dioxide from and oxygenates the blood for patients unable to perform this function on their own.

Caring for a Child With PPHN

Despite the challenges, most children with PPHN can recover fully with medical support and home care. Following your child’s treatment plan, including any medications and therapies such as oxygen therapy or mechanical ventilation, is essential.

Parents and caregivers should also closely monitor breathing, heart rate, and oxygen levels. Be aware of any changes in these vital signs and report them to your healthcare provider immediately. Try to keep the environment calm and peaceful and minimize noise and other distractions because children with PPHN can be sensitive to stimulation and stress.

Caring for an infant with PPHN can be emotionally and physically draining for parents and caregivers. Seek support from family, friends, or a support group to help you cope with the challenges of caring for a child with PPHN. Pediatric home health services can be a highly beneficial solution in households with multiple children, busy schedules, and working parents. A home health professional, including registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs), can help your child receive the care and attention they need to thrive. Service plans can be individualized to meet any family’s unique needs.

Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of skilled professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help. We have been enforcing precautionary measures and following the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19 to ensure the safety and health of our clients and employees.

Our home health care services offer support one-on-one in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you or a loved one are considering pediatric home health care services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.