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Am J Surg. 1986 Jan;151(1):176-83.

Long-term survival after emergency portacaval shunting for bleeding varices in patients with alcoholic cirrhosis.


Since 1963, a prospective evaluation of the emergency portacaval shunt procedure has been conducted in 264 unselected patients with cirrhosis and bleeding varices who underwent operation within 8 hours of admission to the emergency department. Of 153 patients who underwent operation 10 or more years ago, 45 (29 percent) have survived from 10 to 22 years and their current status is known. On admission, 40 percent of the long-term survivors had jaundice, 44 percent had ascites, 13 percent had encephalopathy (with an additional 9 percent with a history of encephalopathy), 29 percent had severe muscle wasting, and 82 percent had a hyperdynamic state. There were 9 Child's class A patients, 33 Child's class B patients, and 3 Child's class C patients. At operation, all patients had portal hypertension which was reduced by the shunt to a mean corrected free portal pressure of 18 mm saline solution. The emergency portacaval shunt procedure permanently controlled variceal bleeding. None of the patients bled again from varices, and the shunt remained patent throughout life in every patient. Encephalopathy did not affect 91 percent of the patients, but was a recurrent problem in 9 percent, usually related to the use of alcohol. Lifelong abstinence from alcohol occurred in 58 percent of the long-term survivors, but 11 percent resumed regular drinking and 31 percent consumed alcohol occasionally. Liver function declined compared with preoperative function in only 18 percent of the patients, almost always because of alcohol use. Ten years after operation, 73 percent of the patients were in excellent or good condition, and 68 percent were gainfully employed or engaged in full-time housework. Comparison of the 10 to 22 year survivors with our early group of 180 patients reported previously and our recent group of 84 patients showed no significant differences in preoperative or operative data. The single factor that appeared to influence long-term survival was resumption of regular use of alcohol. We conclude that the emergency portacaval shunt procedure, by preventing hemorrhage from varices, results in prolonged survival and an acceptable quality of life for a substantial number of patients with advanced alcoholic cirrhosis.

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