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Cirrhosis: Surgical Shunts for Portal Hypertension - Topic Overview

Shunt surgeries are designed to redirect the flow of blood or abdominal fluid through other areas of the body. Shunts are rarely used because of the complications they may cause. They are done only in medical centers where the surgeon is experienced in doing the procedures.

  • Peritoneovenous shunts. These shunts may reduce fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity (ascites) by diverting the fluid into normal blood circulation.
  • Portacaval shunts. Portacaval shunts may lower blood pressure in the portal vein by diverting the flow of blood from the portal vein to the large vein that returns blood to the heart (vena cava).

Shunt surgery may be used for people:

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  • Who have relatively good liver function and serious complications of portal hypertension, especially recurrent variceal bleeding.
  • Who are not good liver transplant candidates because of advanced age, continuing alcohol use, or both.
  • When other treatments (such as variceal banding for bleeding or diuretics for ascites) have not worked.
  • Who have ascites and can't have a transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS) or repeated paracenteses.
  • Who do not have close access to medical care and cannot quickly return for more variceal banding treatments or paracenteses.

Complications of shunt surgery may include changes in mental function (encephalopathy). People who have large-diameter portacaval shunts have a 30% to 40% rate of encephalopathy.1

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: March 12, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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