Portal hypertension is high blood pressure of the portal vein. The portal vein, a major vein in the abdomen, collects nutrient-rich blood from the intestines and delivers it to the liver to nourish it, where it is purified for our body to use.
Like other organs, the liver needs oxygen and nutrients to function, which it receives from the portal vein. After the oxygen-rich and nutrient-rich blood passes through the liver, it flows into the hepatic veins and on into the inferior vena cava, which takes it back to the heart. Blocked or reduced blood flow at any point of this process will result in increased pressure inside the portal vein. When this occurs, blood is detoured into other smaller veins that ultimately allow blood to flow back to the heart. However, these smaller veins can enlarge and form varices (varicose or dilated veins).
The most common cause of portal hypertension is cirrhosis, which refers to the “hardening” of the liver because of scar tissue. The other primary cause of portal hypertension is due to clots which narrow or block blood flow through the veins to and from the liver. Portal hypertension is fairly uncommon, but when it occurs, it most often happens in older adults and may result in death, if untreated.
Causes of portal hypertension:
- Cirrhosis of the liver (may be due to alcohol use or hepatitis)
- Clotting of the portal vein
- Clotting of the hepatic veins
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