Congestive hepatomegaly is a backup of blood in the liver, resulting from heart failure.
Severe heart failure causes blood to back up from the heart into the inferior vena cava (the large vein that carries blood from the lower parts of the body to the heart). Such congestion increases pressure in this vein and other veins that carry blood to it, including the hepatic veins (which drain blood from the liver). If this pressure is high enough, the liver becomes engorged (congested) with blood and malfunctions.
In most people, the congested liver causes only mild abdominal discomfort. The liver (in the upper right part of the abdomen) is tender and enlarged. In severe cases, the skin and whites of the eyes may turn yellow—a disorder called jaundice. Fluid may accumulate in the abdomen—a disorder called ascites. The spleen also tends to enlarge. If congestion is severe and chronic, liver damage or even severe scarring (cirrhosis) develops.
Doctors suspect the disorder in people with heart failure who have typical symptoms and abnormal results on blood tests done to evaluate the liver.
Management focuses on treating the heart failure (see Heart Failure: Prevention). Such treatment may restore normal liver function.
Last full review/revision December 2007 by Eldon A. Shaffer, MD