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Portal Hypertension

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

What is portal hypertension?

Portal hypertension is high blood pressure in the portal vein of your liver. Your portal vein is the main blood supply for your liver.

What causes portal hypertension?

Certain diseases cause scar tissue that narrows the veins in your liver. The scar tissue slows blood flow through your liver. This causes the blood pressure in your liver to rise.

What increases my risk for portal hypertension?

  • Cirrhosis (liver failure) caused by alcohol abuse or hepatitis
  • Blood clot or blockage of blood in your portal vein
  • Heart failure
  • Too much iron in your blood
  • Family history of portal hypertension
  • Parasite infection or liver virus
  • A narrowed portal vein at birth

What are the signs and symptoms of portal hypertension?

  • Pale skin, swollen fingers, or red or itchy skin or palms
  • Yellowing of the whites of your eyes, or dark brown urine
  • Swelling of your abdomen, swollen veins across the abdomen, or spider veins on your stomach or back
  • Tumors with new, visible blood vessels
  • Enlarged breast tissue in men, or shrunken testicles
  • Fast or pounding heartbeat
  • Confusion
  • Muscle twitches or hand movements that you cannot control
  • Loss of appetite or sudden weight loss

How is portal hypertension diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your signs and symptoms and history of liver problems. He may also ask if you have had an injury to your abdomen or blood clotting problems. Tell him if you have used birth control pills or vitamin A recently. You may also need any of the following:

  • Blood tests may be used to show how well your liver is working, or if you have problems with blood clotting.
  • An ultrasound, CT, or MRI scan may be used to show blood flow problems in your liver and to measure blood pressure in your liver. You may be given contrast dye to help your liver and portal vein show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.

How is portal hypertension treated?

  • Beta-blockers lower the blood pressure in your portal vein by slowing your heart rate and making your blood vessels wider. A lower pressure may prevent damage to your liver and help prevent bleeding.
  • Surgery may be needed to improve blood flow in your liver. You may need a liver transplant if surgery does not improve your condition. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about the types of surgery you may need.

What are the risks of portal hypertension?

You may develop swollen veins in your esophagus. These are called esophageal varices. These veins may start to bleed, and cause severe blood loss. Your brain may become damaged by toxins if your liver can no longer filter toxins from your blood. Blood pressure and fluid may build around your lungs and abdomen. This may make it hard to breathe. These risks can be life-threatening.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Stop drinking alcohol. Alcohol will narrow your blood vessels further, damage your liver, and make your condition worse.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider before you take any medicines. Certain medicines, such as antibiotics, acetaminophen, or birth control pills can damage your liver.
  • Eat healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Ask if you need to be on a special diet. You may need to avoid sodium, protein, and sugar if you have swelling in your abdomen.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your abdomen swells.
  • You urinate very little.
  • Your heartbeat is faster than normal for you.
  • You have increased confusion or forgetfulness
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You vomit blood.
  • You have bloody or black bowel movements.
  • You have chest pain, shortness of breath, or swelling in your legs.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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