A prospective analysis of the morbidity and mortality after peritoneovenous shunting was carried out in 25 patients who had a total of 27 shunts for refractory ascites. Major complications were limited to the patients in whom ascites was secondary to hepatic rather than peritoneal disease. Immediate postoperative complications followed 17 out of the 23 shunts carried out in patients with liver disease and included septicaemia (two), profound hypotension (two), pulmonary oedema (one), and clinically evident disseminated intravascular coagulation (14). Long term morbidity was again limited to the patients with liver disease and included chronic shunt infection (two) and major venous thrombosis (two). Shunt associated mortality was only seen in the patients with liver disease. Despite late shunt blockage in five long term survivors with alcoholic liver disease fluid retention was easily controlled by simple medical means probably because of improved liver function associated with abstinence from alcohol. It is concluded that: (1) patients with hepatic and malignant ascites respond differently to the insertion of a peritoneovenous shunt; (2) Shunt patency should be monitored regularly in patients with liver disease and, because of the potential for septic and thrombotic complications, if blocked the shunt should be removed and; (3) because of the morbidity and mortality of peritoneovenous shunt surgery in patients with liver disease and refractory ascites, an alternative mode of therapy, such as repeated ultrafiltration and reinfusion of ascitic fluid, may be a more effective initial therapeutic approach especially in patients in whom there is a reversible element to their underlying liver disease.
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