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Ann Surg. 2000 Sep;232(3):340-52.

A 27-year experience with surgical treatment of Budd-Chiari syndrome.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, University of California San Diego Medical Center, San Diego, California 92103-8999, USA.



To determine the effects of surgical portal decompression in Budd-Chiari syndrome (BCS) on survival, quality of life, shunt patency, liver function, portal hemodynamics, and hepatic morphology during periods ranging from 3.5 to 27 years.


Experiments in the authors' laboratory showed that surgical portal decompression reversed the deleterious effects of BCS on the liver. This study was aimed at determining whether similar benefit could be obtained in patients with BCS.


From 1972 to 1999, the authors conducted prospective studies of the treatment of 60 patients with BCS who were divided into three groups: the first had occlusion confined to the hepatic veins treated by direct side-to-side portacaval shunt (SSPCS); the second had occlusion involving the inferior vena cava (IVC) treated by a portal decompressive procedure that bypassed the obstructed IVC; and the third group, who had advanced cirrhosis and hepatic decompensation and were referred too late for treatment by portal decompression, required orthotopic liver transplantation.


In the 32 patients with BCS resulting from hepatic vein occlusion alone, SSPCS had a surgical death rate of 3%, and 94% of the patients were alive 3.5 to 27 years after surgery. All 31 survivors remained free of ascites and almost all had normal liver function. No patient with a patent shunt had encephalopathy. The SSPCS remained patent in all but one patient. Liver biopsies showed no evidence of congestion or necrosis, and 48% of the biopsies were diagnosed as normal. Mesoatrial shunt was performed in eight patients with BCS caused by IVC thrombosis. All patients survived surgery, but five subsequently developed thrombosis of the synthetic graft and died. Because of the poor results, mesoatrial shunt was abandoned. Instead, a high-flow combination shunt was introduced, consisting of SSPCS combined with a cavoatrial shunt (CAS) through a Gore-Tex graft. There were no surgical or long-term deaths among 10 patients who underwent combined SSPCS and CAS, and the shunts functioned effectively during 4 to 16 years of follow-up. Ten patients with advanced cirrhosis were referred too late to benefit from surgical portal decompression, and they were approved and listed for orthotopic liver transplantation. Three patients died of liver failure while awaiting a transplant, and four patients died after the transplant. The 1- and 5-year survival rates were 40% and 30%, respectively.


SSPCS in BCS with hepatic vein occlusion alone results in reversal of liver damage, correction of hemodynamic disturbances, prolonged survival, and good quality of life when performed early in the course of BCS. Similarly good results are obtained with combined SSPCS and CAS in patients with BCS resulting from IVC occlusion. In contrast, mesoatrial shunt has been discontinued in the authors' program because of an unacceptable incidence of graft thrombosis and death. In patients with advanced cirrhosis from long-standing, untreated BCS, orthotopic liver transplantation is the only hope of relief and results in the salvage of some patients. The key to long survival in BCS is prompt diagnosis and treatment by portal decompression.

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