What is portal hypertension?
Portal hypertension is the build-up of pressure in the portal vein (the vein connecting the intestines and the liver). Normally, the pressure is low compared with the arterial pressure, but slightly above the pressure in the other veins in our body
system. The most common cause of portal hypertension and its clinical consequences is liver disease.
The portal vein connects the intestines and the liver, and supplies most of the liver's blood and oxygen. Portal hypertension, or high blood pressure in the portal vein results from the presence of scar tissue in a damaged liver.
The liver is located in the upper right-hand portion of the abdominal cavity, beneath the diaphragm and on top of the stomach, right kidney, and intestines. The liver, is a dark reddish-brown organ that weighs about three pounds and has multiple functions. The liver regulates most chemical levels in the blood and excretes a product called bile, which helps to break down fats, preparing them for further digestion and absorption. All of the blood leaving the stomach and intestines passes through the liver. The liver processes this blood and breaks down the nutrients and drugs in the blood into forms that are easier to use for the rest of the body. More than 500 vital functions have been identified with the liver.
When a liver becomes damaged, scar tissue replaces dead liver cells and interrupts normal blood flow. This causes blood to back up into the portal vein and increases the blood pressure there as the blood finds alternate routes back to the heart and lungs, usually by forcing its way into the tiny veins of the esophagus and stomach. The fragile blood vessels of the esophagus and stomach become so stretched by the extra blood flow that they are susceptible to breaking. At this point they are referred to as varices. Although they can appear anywhere in the abdominal area, the varices at the base of the esophagus are the most likely to burst and bleed.