Clinical characteristics of patients with liver cirrhosis and spontaneous portosystemic shunts detected by ultrasound in a tertiary care and transplantation centre

Objectives: The clinical relevance of spontaneous portosystemic shunts detected by ultrasound is insufficiently investigated. The aim of this retrospective study was to assess the frequency and clinical relevance of spontaneous portosystemic shunts in patients with liver cirrhosis.

Methods: We evaluated portosystemic shunts, liver cirrhosis and spleen size by ultrasound in 982 patients with liver cirrhosis and correlated these with laboratory results, clinical data and the incidence of clinical endpoint deaths, liver transplantation and the development of HCC during the follow-up period (mean 1.26 ± 1.53 years [range 0–7.2 years]).

Results: Portosystemic shunts were detected in 34% of the patients. These patients had a higher rate of alcohol-related cirrhosis (37% vs. 30%, p = .003), a higher MELD score (p < .001) and Child-Pugh grade (p < .001), as well as more frequent hepatic encephalopathy (p < .001) and oesophageal varices (p < .003). The most frequent portosystemic shunt in this cohort was an umbilical vein shunt (69%) followed by splenorenal (16%), mesenteric (7%) and combined/other shunts (8%). Patients with umbilical vein shunts had a higher rate of alcohol-related cirrhosis (p = .041) and suffered more frequently from Child B/C stages (p = .03), hepatorenal syndrome (p = .03), massive ascites (p = .001) and spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (p = .011).

Conclusions: Patients with portosystemic shunts that are detected by ultrasound should be monitored carefully as these patients are associated with advanced liver disease and multiple clinical risk factors.