DR. HOOK- Breathless: Pulmonary disease evokes gasps

Dark Side of the Moon is my favorite album– though I hate saying something is my "favorite" because I have 1,000 favorites of everything. (I'm so open-minded!) I was discouraged from listening to rock-n-roll music growing up, so I didn't hear of Pink Floyd until I was a freshman at Denison University.

Someone in physics class drew the album cover on the chalkboard, and our professor laughed when he saw it. When Dr. Lawson said, "Pink Floyd fans here?" I said, "Who's Pink Floyd? Is she in this class?" My classmates stared at me like I was Bill Gates in polyester. 

Someone in my dorm played Dark Side of the Moon every day, and I was thrown off by the extra sounds in the music. "Is someone talking on the phone somewhere? Where are those clock sounds coming from? Am I having auditory hallucinations?"  

My buddy told me Pink Floyd added those extra sounds to the album, and I thought that was so bizarre. Rodgers and Hammerstein never did that. Maria von Trapp never had extra voices telling her to go back to the Captain and his seven children.

Today, I have Dark Side of the Moon in my CD player/alarm clock, and almost every night I fall asleep to the first song, "Breathe, breathe in the air. Don't be afraid to care."  

Should you be afraid to care if you can't breathe?

Pulmonary hypertension (Pulm HTN) is when the blood pressure in the lungs is high, making oxygen exchange difficult. Pulm HTN symptoms come on slowly. Often family members or friends say, "Hey, walk faster! You're slowing us down." Or the sufferer may think, "I'm out of shape– I can't get up the stairs as easily as before."  

Usually, coronary artery disease needs to be ruled out first, before Pulm HTN is considered. Rarely, idiopathic pulmonary HTN occurs, meaning we don't have a clue why the person has it. This rare condition occurs mostly in women under the age of 36. 

Usually there's an underlying cause for Pulm HTN, such as sleep apnea. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and the incidence of obstructive sleep apnea is climbing like Kelly Clarkson's ticket sales.  

Other conditions that limit oxygen to the lungs– things like emphysema and chronic bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, and kyphosis– cause the blood flow in the lungs to shut off. It's like saving electricity– if the room isn't being used, turn off the lights. If parts of the lungs aren't getting enough oxygen, the blood supply slows down– which in turns leads to arterial damage in the lungs over time.  

So it's very important to use oxygen if the lungs aren't getting enough, and– mostly– don't smoke! (Pink Floyd concerts are known for smoking, and we're not talking kitchen pans or kettles, if you get my drift.) Losing weight to prevent or eliminate obstructive sleep apnea is a great alternative to using a breathing machine.  

Heart disease that backs up pressure to the lungs can cause Pulm HTN like a backed-up drainage system, and the result can be congestive heart failure, mitral or aortic valve stenosis, and cardiac shunts (blood flow is redirected in the heart due to leakage from one chamber to another). Surgery to fix these problems is important before Pulm HTN develops or gets worse. 

You might not be a cheerleading Gwen Stefani-style "Hollaback Girl," but it's good to have two strong lungs. Eating right and exercise might help keep them in good shape.

Remember the Phen-fen diet pill craze and all the lawsuits that followed because the pills were associated with Pulm HTN? I know exercise is less popular than the war in Iraq right now, but it's as important as doing your laundry or taking a shower. And it just might save your life.