What is Portal Hypertension?

A clogged up liver can lead to trouble when you have the hepatitis C virus. One of the signs that your liver is damaged is portal hypertension. That phrase struck fear in me the first time I heard it. I Googled, "what is portal hypertension?" and the results made me so shaky that I logged off and went to bed. Lying there with the covers pulled up to my chin, I wondered if I would die in the night. I remember curling up in the fetal position after looking at pictures of my varices.

Sitting in the dark doesn’t help, but knowing the facts does. Once you know about something, it seems less scary. I read and took notes. I forced myself to look at pictures and diagrams. I finally began to understand portal hypertension; It is not so bad once you understand how to live with it.

Here are some basic facts about portal hypertension:

What is portal hypertension?

Portal hypertension is caused when the portal vein in the liver gets pinched-off because of cirrhosis scarring.

What are portal hypetension's effects

When the blood can’t get through the vein, it does not flow down through the liver. Instead, it flows back up toward the heart. Increased pressure on the vein causes it to bulge and swell with every heartbeat.

Rushing back up and away from the liver, the blood looks for an outlet. The blood travels up toward the esophagus, spleen, stomach, and heart. Following the path of least resistance, it can also move toward the intestine. Wherever it travels, it creates increased pressure in the veins. This causes the veins to stretch and swell beyond what they are used to.

Treatment and management options

There are several things you can do to help yourself.

Prescriptions

Your doctor may prescribe a beta-blocker. When taken as prescribed, it can help keep your portal vein pressure from getting too high.

Diet

By reducing sodium in your diet, your liver and kidneys will not have to work so hard. It can help reduce portal vein pressure, and heart blood pressure. Eat a lot of plant, chicken, or fish in order to get your protein for the day.

Exercise

Use caution. Whenever you exert yourself, your heart pumps blood to supply your muscles with oxygen rich blood. Because of the blood backing up, you should be very careful about lifting heavy objects. Your doctor may also encourage your to reduce running, walking, or cycling at first. Take it slow until you gain strength and understand how to keep your portal vein pressure down. Once you do, your doctor may let you begin an approved exercise program.

Additional tests and procedures may be done to help diagnose and treat portal vein hypertension. Understanding what is happening in your liver can help you to make good choices. It can also give you some peace of mind. Now that you know some basic facts about portal hypertension, you can take good care of your liver!

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