What Is Portal Hypertension?
The portal venous system contains veins coming from the stomach, intestine, spleen, and pancreas. These veins merge into the portal vein, which branches into smaller vessels and travel through the liver. Portal hypertension occurs when there is an increase in the blood pressure within the portal venous system. When the vessels in the liver are blocked due to liver damage, blood cannot flow properly through the liver. This causes high blood pressure in the portal system.
Portal Hypertension Causes
Cirrhosis of the liver is the most common cause of portal hypertension. In cirrhosis, the scar tissue (from the healing of liver injury caused by hepatitis, alcohol, or other liver damage) blocks the flow of blood through the liver. Blood clots in the portal vein, blockages of the veins that carry blood from the liver to the heart, parasitic infection (schistosomiasis), and focal nodular hyperplasia are also causes of portal hypertension.
Portal Hypertension Symptoms
Symptoms of portal hypertension include the following:
- Gastrointestinal bleeding, which can cause black, tarry stools or blood in stools, or vomiting of blood
- Ascites (fluid in the abdomen)
- Encephalopathy or confusion
- Reduced levels of platelets (blood cells that help form blood clots)
Portal Hypertension Treatment
There is no treatment available for the causes of portal hypertension. However, treatment can prevent or manage the complications. Diet, medication (nonselective beta-blockers), endoscopic therapy, surgery, and radiology procedures can all help in treating or preventing symptoms of portal hypertension. If these treatments are unsuccessful in treating symptoms, transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS) or distal splenorenal shunt (DSRA) are two procedures that may reduce pressure in the portal veins. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle may help to prevent portal hypertension.