Liver cirrhosis and portal hypertension in cystic fibrosis

Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2003 Oct;15(10):1073-8. doi: 10.1097/00042737-200310000-00002.


Objectives: Liver disease is the second cause of death in cystic fibrosis. The most deleterious complication of liver disease is portal hypertension, which has an estimated prevalence of up to 8%. Portal hypertension may manifest itself by splenomegaly, hypersplenism, gastro-oesophageal bleeding and ascites. The aim of our study was to determine the prevalence, risk factors and invasive management of portal hypertension at our centre.

Methods: One hundred and fifty patients with cystic fibrosis were followed up between 1975 and 2000 in the national cystic fibrosis centre in Israel. Forty patients (27%) had liver disease. All underwent clinical evaluation and laboratory and imaging studies.

Results: Portal hypertension was diagnosed in 10 patients (7%), of whom eight were male. The mean age at diagnosis was 11 years (range, 4-17 years). All had severe mutations of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator gene (the CFTR gene), pancreatic insufficiency, meconium ileus or distal intestinal obstruction syndrome and variceal bleeding. Seven patients underwent sclerotherapy to control acute bleeding. Four underwent portosystemic shunting (functioning up to 37 years). Two patients with severe lung and liver disease underwent transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunting, which provided bleeding control, but both died while waiting for lung/liver transplantation. One patient underwent liver transplantation due to liver failure and still had good liver and lung function 10 years later.

Conclusions: Portal hypertension is more common among Israeli patients with cystic fibrosis. The unique genetic composition of our population may explain this phenomenon. Risk factors include male gender, pancreatic insufficiency, severe CFTR mutations, meconium ileus and meconium ileus equivalent. Sclerotherapy is the main option to control oesophageal variceal bleeding, while portosystemic shunts offer a prolonged alternative treatment for refractory bleeding. A transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt and liver transplantation may also be effective, but further research is required in order to establish their role.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cystic Fibrosis / complications*
  • Cystic Fibrosis / genetics
  • Cystic Fibrosis / physiopathology
  • Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator / genetics
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Portal / etiology*
  • Hypertension, Portal / therapy
  • Liver Cirrhosis / complications*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / therapy
  • Liver Transplantation
  • Lung / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Mutation
  • Portasystemic Shunt, Surgical
  • Portasystemic Shunt, Transjugular Intrahepatic
  • Sclerotherapy


  • CFTR protein, human
  • Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator