Cor Pulmonale: Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Cor pulmonale is also known as right-sided heart failure because the right ventricle becomes enlarged and eventually stops working. Read this lesson to learn what causes cor pulmonale, the resulting symptoms, and possible treatment options.

What Is Cor Pulmonale?

Cor pulmonale may have a crazy-sounding name (it's Latin, for your information), but it's a condition that's pretty easy to understand. Cor pulmonale is a medical condition where the right ventricle of the heart becomes enlarged due to a disease in either the lungs or the lung's blood vessels, which are called the pulmonary vessels. Sometimes the small pulmonary vessels become damaged or infected, making it harder for blood to flow through them and increasing blood pressure in this area.

The problem is that when blood is blocked from flowing properly, oxygen can't be delivered to where it needs to go. To compensate, the heart will thicken its right ventricle (which pumps blood to the lungs) and expand the chamber so it can hold more blood. As it enlarges, the heart stops pumping efficiently, so it tries to work overtime, eventually failing.

Cor pulmonale causes the right ventricle to enlarge, as shown here.

What Causes Cor Pulmonale?

The most common cause is pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure in the lung's blood vessels which causes low blood oxygen for an extended period of time. However, it may also be caused by blood clots in the lungs, chronic diseases like COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), damage or scarring to the lung tissues, sleep apnea caused by airway inflammation, or cystic fibrosis. A rarer cause is kyphoscoliosis, which is a severe curvature of the upper spine.

Symptoms of Cor Pulmonale

If someone has cul pulmonale, there may not be any initial symptoms at all. However, when symptoms appear, they're usually characterized by difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, feeling fatigued, experiencing an elevated heart rate, and feeling light-headed. As the condition progresses, symptoms can include chest pains, swelling (particularly in the legs and feet), fainting, coughing, wheezing, or cyanosis, where parts of the skin appear blue in color.

Treating and Preventing Cor Pulmonale

Treating cor pulmonale requires treating the underlying condition. If pulmonary hypertension is the cause, medication used to lower blood pressure might help. Diuretics can be used to remove extra fluids and salt from the body, which decreases the amount of work the heart needs to do. Blood thinners can be used to prevent clot from forming, especially in the small vessels in the lungs, an oxygen therapy can be used to ensure the patient is receiving enough oxygen.

In very severe cases, it may be necessary to perform a surgical heart or lung transplant.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account