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Would a change in diet help?

You may find it helpful to adhere to a low-salt diet if you have pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). Excess salt intake can contribute to fluid retention. When there is extra fluid in your body, and therefore in the blood vessels, your heart has to work harder to pump blood. As we've discussed previously, in PAH the right ventricle may be under strain due to the higher pressures in the pulmonary arteries, and any extra blood volume will add to that strain. Overload of the right ventricle can lead to edema (swelling) in the legs and elsewhere. Therefore, maintaining a low-salt diet to reduce your body's fluid volume may be beneficial.

For those PAH patients who are on the anticoagulant (blood thinner) called warfarin (brand name Coumadin), there is a specific dietary issue that is important. This medication's activity is affected by the amount of vitamin K (found in green leafy vegetables) in your diet. If you are on coumadin, you need to eat a consistent amount of these vegetables. Changes in your diet can result in changes in your level of anticoagulation. This is one of the reasons why the effects of coumadin (measured by a blood test called the prothrombin time, also known as Pro-Time or PT-INR) are checked regularly.

There has been some research into using an essential amino acid called arginine as a dietary supplement to help treat PAH. When your body metabolizes arginine, it produces nitric oxide which can act as a vasodilator. The long term effects of this supplement are not yet fully understood and whether it could have significant benefit as a dietary supplement is not known. In the future, there may be specific PAH patients who benefit from this form of therapy.

Although no other dietary changes necessarily have a direct impact on PAH, a generally healthy diet will help prevent other diseases, such as coronary artery disease and diabetes, that can impact your overall health. Such systemic diseases make it more difficult for your body to cope with PAH. A diet low in animal fats, saturated fats, and processed carbohydrates, and high in fruits and vegetables is encouraged.