CHICAGO – Portal vein recanalization using a transsplenic approach can be utilized to improve transplant candidacy in patients with cirrhosis and chronic portal vein thrombosis, according to Dr. Bartley Thornburg.
“It’s a safe and effective procedure that allows for end-to-end anastomoses at transplant in patients who otherwise would not be able to have them or would require thrombectomy without transplant, and we know that end-to-end anastomoses are associated with decreased morbidity and mortality,” said Dr. Thornburg of Northwestern University Medical Center in Chicago.
Historically, and at his institution, portal vein thrombosis (PVT) is a relative contraindication to liver transplant. The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases also recommends that transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS) placement be avoided in patients with a Model for End-State Liver Disease (MELD) score >18.
In 2013, colleague Dr. Riad Salem demonstrated the efficacy of portal vein recanalization during TIPS using a transhepatic approach in 44 patients, with only one technical failure and three cases of rethrombosis. Among six patients with a baseline MELD score >18, four went on to successful liver transplant, one is awaiting transplant, and one died as a result of bleeding 45 days post procedure despite an improvement in MELD score.
The last three patients in the series underwent TIPS with a transsplenic approach, and not only were the results equally good, but the approach was technically easier, Dr. Thornburg said at a symposium on vascular surgery sponsored by Northwestern University.
Since then, this increasingly common alternative approach has been assessed in another 11 consecutive patients with cirrhosis, portal hypertension, and chronic PVT. All patients had been denied listing for transplant because of their PVT, and four had a baseline MELD score >18.
At the end of the procedure, thrombus persisted in 45% (5 of 11 patients). On a 1-month follow-up venogram, however, three of the five patients had complete resolution of the thrombus without any added anticoagulation, one had persistent partial thrombus that was smaller than at stent placement, and one went on to transplant, Dr. Thornburg said.
All six of the patients with portal vein (PV) patency post procedure have retained patency after a median follow-up of 6.4 months.
“What we’ve learned from doing these cases is that complete elimination of the portal vein thrombus at the time of TIPS placement isn’t necessary,” he said. “It would be easy to get carried away and do suction or AngioJet [mechanical thrombectomy], but what we’ve found is that because of how much flow there is in the portal vein once it’s recanalized and the TIPS is in place, basically establishing a flow allowed for clot clearance by 1 month in all patients, except one.”
The procedure starts like a typical TIPS, with access achieved by advancing a 21-guage needle into the peripheral splenic vein or hilum under ultrasound guidance. A 5-French sheath is then placed through the parenchyma to the origin of splenic vein or the clot and an intrahepatic venogram performed to confirm occlusion, Dr. Thornburg said.
A 5-French Kumpe catheter and glide wire are used to recanalize the thrombosed portal vein, with a 10-mm gooseneck snare placed through the Kumpe in the peripheral portal vein as a target for the TIPS needle.
“Then, we basically get through-and-through access from the IJ [internal jugular] through this splenic access, and that gives us the workability to get our sheath across the portal vein and place our TIPS,” he said.
The remainder of the procedure is similar to that of the transhepatic approach. Angioplasty of the thrombosed PV is performed with an 8-by-40-mm balloon, followed by deployment of a Viatorr stent graft. The stent and PV are dilated with a 10-by-40-mm balloon and the splenic tract embolized with a couple of 4-by-14-cm Nester coils.
Based on their experience, short TIPS are always placed to maximize the amount of portal vein that is available at transplant for the end-to-end anastomoses, Dr. Thornburg said.
All patients who went on to transplant have received end-to-end anastomoses on what transplant surgeons have described as “totally normal” walled portal veins, including one patient who underwent transplant just 1 week post TIPS, he added.
There have been no major bleeding events with the transsplenic approach and only two adverse events: one case of transient encephalopathy and one low-grade fever.
Dr. Thornburg and Dr. Salem reported having no relevant financial disclosures.