Portal vein thrombosis is caused by a blood clot blocking or narrowing the vein that takes blood from the intestines to the spleen and liver. This situation can decrease or even stop blood flow to the liver. The portal vein is very important because about 75% of the liver’s blood supply comes through this vein. Portal vein thrombosis can cause serious liver damage due to lack of blood flow as well as an enlarged spleen and esophageal or gastric (stomach) varices (varicose veins in the esophagus or stomach caused by valves failing due to too much pressure in the veins or portal hypertension).
Symptoms may include fever, indigestion, and worsening abdominal pain. The spleen may be enlarged, causing pain. If the esophageal or gastric varices rupture or burst open, there will be a lot of bleeding which requires emergency treatment. If the person already has scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) due to liver disease, fluid may build up in the abdomen. However, not all affected individuals have noticeable symptoms.
In newborns, portal vein thrombosis is often caused by an infection of the umbilical cord stump. In older children, it may be caused by appendicitis. And in adults, portal vein thrombosis may be caused by having too many red blood cells; liver, pancreatic, kidney or adrenal gland cancers; injury; surgery; pregnancy; cirrhosis of the liver; or any condition which increases chances of blood clots. In one third of the cases, the cause is unknown.
To confirm a diagnosis, your doctor may use a Doppler ultrasound, an MRI or CT scan, or blood tests to check liver function. There are several medications available to treat portal vein thrombosis and help dissolve the blood clot. Talk to your doctor about the most current treatment options. Support organizations are good sources of information and can connect you to others affected by portal vein thrombosis.