Portal vein thrombosis in adults undergoing liver transplantation: risk factors, screening, management, and outcome

Transplantation. 2000 May 15;69(9):1873-81. doi: 10.1097/00007890-200005150-00023.


Background: Portal vein thrombosis (PVT) has been seen as an obstacle to liver transplantation (LTx). Recent data suggest that favorable results may be achieved in this group of patients but only limited information from small size series is available. The present study was conducted in an effort to review the surgical options in patients with PVT and to assess the impact of PVT on LTx outcome. Risk factors for PVT and the value of screening tools are also analyzed.

Methods: Adult LTx performed from 1987 through 1996 were reviewed. PVT was retrospectively graded according to the operative findings: grade 1: <50% PVT +/- minimal obstruction of the superior mesenteric vein (SMV); grade 2: grade 1 but >50% PVT; grade 3: complete PV and proximal SMV thrombosis; grade 4: complete PV and entire SMV thrombosis.

Results: Of 779 LTx, 63 had operatively confirmed PVT (8.1%): 24 had grade 1, 23 grade 2, 6 grade 3, and 10 grade 4 PVT. Being male, treatment for portal hypertension, Child-Pugh class C, and alcoholic liver disease were associated with PVT. Sensitivity of ultrasound (US) in detecting PVT increased with PVT grade and was 100% in grades 3-4. In patients with US-diagnosed PVT, an angiogram was performed and ruled out a false positive US diagnosis in 13%. In contrast with US, angiograms differentiated grade 1 from grade 2, and grade 3 from grade 4 PVT. Grade 1 and 2 PVT were managed by low dissection and/or a thrombectomy; in grade 3 the distal SMV was directly used as an inflow vessel, usually through an interposition donor iliac vein; in grade 4 a splanchnic tributary was used or a thrombectomy was attempted. Transfusion requirements in PVT patients (10 U) were higher than in non-PVT patients (5 U) (P<0.01). In-hospital mortality for PVT patients was 30% versus 12.4% in controls (P<0.01). Patients with PVT had more postoperative complications, renal failure, primary nonfunction, and PV rethrombosis. The overall actuarial 5-year patient survival rate in PVT patients (65.6%) was lower than in controls (76.3%; P=0.04). Patients with grade 1 PVT, however, had a 5-year survival rate (86%) identical to that of controls, whereas patients with grades 2, 3, and 4 PVT had reduced survival rates. The 5-year patient survival rate improved from the 1st to the 2nd era in non-PVT patients (from 72% to 83%; P<0.01), in grade 1 PVT (from 53% to 100%; P<0.01), and in grades 2 to 4 PVT (from 38% to 62%; P=0.11).

Conclusions: The value of US diagnosis in patients with PVT depends on the PVT grade, and false negative diagnoses occur only in incomplete forms of PVT (grades 1-2). The degree of PVT dictates the surgical strategy to be used, thrombectomy/low dissection in grade 1-2, mesoportal jump graft in grade 3, and a splanchnic tributary in grade 4. Taken altogether, PVT patients undergo more difficult surgery, have more postoperative complications, have higher in-hospital mortality rates, and have reduced 5-year survival rates. Analysis by PVT grade, however, reveals that grade 1 PVT patients do as well as controls; only grades 2 to 4 PVT patients have poorer outcomes. With increased experience, results of LTx in PVT patients have improved and, even in severe forms of PVT, a 5-year survival rate >60% can now be achieved.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Graft Survival
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Liver Transplantation / adverse effects*
  • Male
  • Portal Vein* / diagnostic imaging
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology
  • Radiography
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Ultrasonography
  • Venous Thrombosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Venous Thrombosis / etiology*
  • Venous Thrombosis / surgery