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Ann Surg. 1998 Oct;228(4):536-46.

The changing spectrum of treatment for variceal bleeding.

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Department of Surgery, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA.



The objective of this study was to assess the impact of endoscopic therapy, liver transplantation, and transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS) on patient selection and outcome of surgical treatment for this complication of portal hypertension, as reflected in a single surgeon's 18-year experience with operations for variceal hemorrhage.


Definitive treatment of patients who bleed from portal hypertension has been progressively altered during the past 2 decades during which endoscopic therapy, liver transplantation, and TIPS have successively become available as alternative treatment options to operative portosystemic shunts and devascularization procedures.


Two hundred sixty-three consecutive patients who were surgically treated for portal hypertensive bleeding between 1978 and 1996 were reviewed retrospectively. Four Eras separated by the dates when endoscopic therapy (January 1981), liver transplantation (July 1985), and TIPS (January 1993) became available in our institution were analyzed. Throughout all four Eras, a selective operative approach, using the distal splenorenal shunt (DSRS), nonselective shunts, and esophagogastric devascularization, was taken. The most common indications for nonselective shunts and esophagogastric devascularization were medically intractable ascites and splanchnic venous thrombosis, respectively. Most other patients received a DSRS.


The risk status (Child's class) of patients undergoing surgery progressively improved (p = 0.001) throughout the 4 Eras, whereas the need for emergency surgery declined (p = 0.002). The percentage of nonselective shunts performed decreased because better options to manage acute bleeding episodes (sclerotherapy, TIPS) and advanced liver disease complicated by ascites (liver transplantation, TIPS) became available (p = 0.009). In all Eras, the operative mortality rate was directly related to Child's class (A, 2.7%; B, 7.5%; and C, 26.1 %) (p = 0.001). As more good-risk patients underwent operations for variceal bleeding, the incidence of postoperative encephalopathy decreased (p = 0.015), and long-term survival improved (p = 0.012), especially since liver transplantation became available to salvage patients who developed hepatic failure after a prior surgical procedure. There were no differences between Eras with respect to rebleeding or shunt occlusion. Distal splenorenal shunts (p = 0.004) and nonselective shunts (p = 0.001) were more protective against rebleeding than was esophagogastric devascularization.


The sequential introduction of endoscopic therapy, liver transplantation, and TIPS has resulted in better selection and improved results with respect to quality and length of survival for patients treated surgically for variceal bleeding. Despite these innovations, portosystemic shunts and esophagogastric devascularization remain important and effective options for selected patients with bleeding secondary to portal hypertension.

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