Pulmonary hypertension physical examination

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Pulmonary Hypertension Microchapters


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Editor(s)-in-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1] ; Assistant Editor(s)-in-Chief: Lisa Prior; Ralph Matar


Pulmonary hypertension (PH) can present with myriad physical findings that may be associated with PH or the underlying cause. Findings associated with pulmonary hypertension are usually connected to right heart failure or right heart overload, while other findings may be associated with underlying cause, such as thoracic deformities which may arise in the setting of COPD, or sclerodactyly that may be seen in patients with scleroderma. Some may develop on a spectrum corresponding to the severity of the disease.

Physical Examination

General Appearance

The appearance of the patient may give clues as to the etiology of the condition. For example in COPD, one of the most common causes of pulmonary hypertension, the patient may appear short of breath with pursed lips breathing and use of accessory muscles. Later on as the disease gets more severe, the patient may appear cyanotic with extremities cold to the touch.[1]


The pulse may be diminished. This usually occurs in more severe cases.[1]


Jugular Venous Pressure - JVP

Assessment of the JVP in pulmonary hypertension involves assessing the 'a' wave (coincides with atrial contraction), the 'v' wave (coincides with atrial filling) and the height of the JVP column above the sternal angle. Physical findings may include:



A complete precordial assessment of pulmonary hypertension involves palpating the precordium for heaves and thrills and auscultating to assess first and second heart sounds, splitting of the second heart sound and determining if there are any added heart sounds or murmurs. Physical findings may include the following:


  • Left parasternal heave: due to hyperdynamic right ventricle
  • Palpable P2: correlates with severe disease [1]


First and second heart sound (S1,S2)
  • Loud P2 component of S2: this is due to the forceful closure of the valve because of increased pulmonary pressure. It can be heard mostly in the pulmonary area (upper right sternal border). If it is evident at the cardiac apex, this indicates more severe disease. It is best appreciated on inspiration.[3]
Splitting of S2
  • Narrowed splitting of S2: in chronic pulmonary hypertension, pulmonary artery compliance decreases leading to earlier pulmonary valve closure and narrowed splitting.[4]
  • Widened splitting of S2: widened splitting may occur later if right ventricular failure or bundle branch block develops.[3]
Extra Heart Sounds
  • S4: due to right ventricular hypertrophy and therefore reduced compliance secondary to pulmonary hypertension. It is increased with inspiration.
  • S3: if right ventricular failure develops. Increased with inspiration.[1]
Additional Sounds
  • Systolic pulmonary ejection click: increased with inspiration


Findings in the abdomen include:

  • Ascites: indicates right ventricular failure
  • Painful hepatomegaly: indicates right ventricular failure
  • Pulsatile liver: due to tricuspid regurgitation [1]



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Simon O'Connor MBBS FRACP DDU; Nicholas P. Hirsch MBBS FRCA FRCP (2009). Clinical Examination: A Systematic Guide to Physical Diagnosis. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone. ISBN 0-7295-3905-9.
  2. Galiè N, Hoeper MM, Humbert M, Torbicki A, Vachiery JL, Barbera JA; et al. (2009). "Guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of pulmonary hypertension: the Task Force for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Pulmonary Hypertension of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) and the European Respiratory Society (ERS), endorsed by the International Society of Heart and Lung Transplantation (ISHLT)". Eur Heart J. 30 (20): 2493–537. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehp297. PMID 19713419.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Thompson, Paul Richard; Topol, Eric J.; Califf, Robert M.; Prystowsky, Eric N.; Thomas, James Alan (2007). Textbook of cardiovascular medicine. Hagerstwon, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. ISBN 0-7817-7012-2.
  4. Alexander, R. McNeill; Hurst, J. Willis; Schlant, Robert C. (1994). The Heart, arteries and veins. New York: McGraw-Hill, Health Professions Division. ISBN 0-07-055417-X.
  5. Clark, Michael; Kumar, Parveen J. (2009). Kumar and Clark's clinical medicine. St. Louis, Mo: Elsevier Saunders. ISBN 0-7020-2993-9.

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