Cirrhosis and Portal Hypertension | Causes & Risk Factors

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What causes cirrhosis?

Cirrhosis is sometimes caused by hepatitis (an infection of the liver) or by eating or drinking harmful chemicals. The most common cause of cirrhosis is drinking too much alcohol. This is called alcoholic cirrhosis.

Women who drink too much alcohol may be at greater risk of developing alcoholic cirrhosis than men who drink too much. If you drink alcohol, you need to tell your family doctor so he or she can check for signs of cirrhosis, especially if you have any of the symptoms of cirrhosis. Both regular, long-term alcohol use and binge drinking (drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short time period) can contribute to cirrhosis.

What causes portal hypertension?

If blood can’t flow normally through the portal vein, it must return to the heart using other blood vessels, most often those found in the stomach, esophagus and intestines. These vessels become swollen because of the increased amount of blood flowing through them. They are called varices. Varices have thin walls and can easily break open because they aren’t meant to handle such high-pressure blood flow. Bleeding from a broken blood vessel is serious and can even be fatal. Also, because the portal vein is blocked, toxins in the blood are not cleaned by the liver and therefore remain in the body.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 02/14
Created: 04/97

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