Seventeen cirrhotics with refractory ascites were treated with transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS) and followed for 15.5 +/- 3.4 months. Five patients died, four within 3 months after TIPS (hepatocellular failure) and one after 22 months (cholangiocarcinoma). Six patients received transplants 1 to 10 months after the procedure. Actuarial survival at 6, 12, and 24 months was 75%, 75%, and 63%, respectively. Portosystemic venous pressure gradient decreased by 46% at 1 month and by 38% at 7 to 12 months. Eight patients presented 18 stenoses 1 to 18 months after TIPS. Twelve stenoses required balloon dilatation. Tense ascites was present before TIPS in 100% of the patients, whereas it was mild or absent in 56% at 1 month, in 66% at 3 to 6 months, in 57% at 7 to 12 months, and in 100% at 24 months after TIPS. Requirements for diuretics and paracentesis decreased after TIPS (P < .001, both). One month after TIPS, urinary and fractional sodium excretion increased (P < .001, both), plasma renin activity, plasma aldosterone (P < .005, both), and plasma norepinephrine (P < .05) decreased and cardiac output (P < .01) increased, systemic vascular resistances (P < .005) decreased, and arterial pressure did not change. Acute hepatic encephalopathy was frequent early after TIPS but was responsive to treatment and caused no long-term disability. In conclusion, TIPS is useful in the treatment of refractory ascites through lowering portal pressure and improving renal sodium excretion. This effect could be attributable to an increase in effective blood volume causing deactivation of vasopressor systems.