Pathological abnormalities in splenic vasculature in non-cirrhotic portal hypertension: Its relevance in the management of portal hypertension

World J Gastrointest Surg. 2020 Jan 27;12(1):1-8. doi: 10.4240/wjgs.v12.i1.1.


Background: Portal hypertension (PH) is associated with changes in vascular structure and function of the portosplenomesenteric system (PSMS). This is referred to as portal hypertensive vasculopathy. Pathological abnormalities of PSMS has been described in the literature for cirrhotic patients. Raised portal pressure and hyperdynamic circulation are thought to be the underlying cause of this vasculopathy. In view of this, it is expected that pathological changes in splenic and portal vein similar to those reported in cirrhotic patients with PH may also be present in patients with non-cirrhotic PH (NCPH).

Aim: To investigate pathological abnormalities of splenic vein in patients with NCPH, and suggest its possible implications in the management of PH.

Methods: A prospective observational study was performed on 116 patients with NCPH [Extrahepatic portal vein obstruction (EHPVO): 53 and non-cirrhotic portal fibrosis (NCPF): 63] who underwent proximal splenorenal shunt (PSRS), interposition shunt or splenectomy with devascularization in JIPMER, Pondicherry, India, a tertiary level referral center, between 2011-2016. All patients were evaluated by Doppler study of PSMS, computed tomography porto-venogram and upper gastrointestinal endoscopy. An acoustic resonance forced impulse (ARFI) scan and abdomen ultrasound were done for all cases to exclude cirrhosis. Intraoperative and histopathological assessment of the harvested splenic vein was performed in all. The study group was divided into delayed and early presentation based on the median duration of symptoms (i.e. 108 mo).

Results: The study group comprising of 116 patients [77 (66%) females and 39 (34%) males] with NCPH had a median age of 22 years. Median duration of symptoms was 108 mo. The most common presentation in both EHPVO and NCPF patients was upper gastrointestinal bleeding (hematemesis and melena). The ARFI scan revealed a median score of 1.2 (1.0-1.8) m/s for EHPVO and 1.5 (0.9-2.8) m/s for NCPF. PSRS was performed in 84 patients (two of whom underwent interposition PSRS using a 10 mm Dacron graft); splenoadrenal shunt in 9; interposition mesocaval shunt in 5; interposition 1st jejunal to caval shunt in 1 patient and devascularization with splenectomy in 17 patients. Median pre-splenectomy portal pressure was 25 (range: 15-51) mm Hg. In 77% cases, the splenic vein was abnormal upon intraoperative assessment. Under macroscopic examination, wall thickening was observed in 108 (93%), venous thrombosis in 32 (28%) and vein wall calcification in 27 (23%) cases. Upon examination under a surgical magnification loupe, 21 (18%) patients had intimal defects in the splenic vein. Histopathological examination of veins was abnormal in all cases. Medial hypertrophy was noted in nearly all patients (107/116), while intimal fibrosis was seen in 30%. Ninety one percent of patients with intimal fibrosis also had venous thrombosis. Vein wall calcification was found in 22%, all of whom had intimal fibrosis and venous thrombosis. The proportion of patients with pathological abnormalities in the splenic vein were significantly greater in the delayed presentation group as compared to the early presentation group.

Conclusion: Pathological changes in the splenic vein similar to those in cirrhotic patients with PH are noted in NCPH. We recommend that PH in NCPH be treated as systemic and pulmonary hypertension equivalent in the gastrointestinal tract, and that early aggressive therapy be initiated to reduce portal pressure and hemodynamic stress to avoid potential lethal effects.

Keywords: Hyperdynamic circulation; Non-cirrhotic portal hypertension; Portal hypertensive vasculopathy; Shunt surgery; Splenic vasculature.