Although limited, the weight of the evidence suggests that patients with cirrhosis and esophageal varices may benefit from partial splenic embolization (PSE).
A 2006 small randomized-controlled trial comparing PSE and endoscopic ligation vs. endoscopic ligation alone in patients with cirrhosis, thrombocytopenia and esophageal varices reported reduced risk of recurrence of varices, progression to variceal bleeding and death over a mean follow-up of 4.8 years. 1
A 2016 meta-analysis of PSE in the management of gastroesophageal variceal hemorrhage arrived at a similar conclusion with respect to reducing the risk of recurrence of varices, variceal hemorrhage and mortality. 2 The studies included in this meta-analysis, however, were small with only 1 randomized-controlled trial (RCT) in the series.
A 2019 small retrospective of patients undergoing transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS) placement with or without PSE found a significant benefit in primary shunt patency (period between placement and first shunt dysfunction), but not secondary shunt patency (period between placement and permanent shunt dysfunction) or mortality over a 5-year follow-up.3
Adverse effects of PSE include post-embolization syndrome—a constellation of symptoms such as fever, pain, and nausea/vomiting— reported in 78%-100% of patients. More severe complications up to 15%-30% may also occur with PSE, particularly when around 70% or more of splenic volume is embolized. These complications include pleural effusion/ascites, spontaneous bacterial peritonitis, pulmonary embolism, liver failure, portal vein thrombosis and splenic abscesses which may develop between 10 days to 3 months following the procedure. Up to 6% of patients undergoing PSE may die of the procedure-related complications. 4-6
For these reasons, careful selection of patient for PSE and limiting the extent of splenic necrosis to 50% with close monitoring of clinical and ultrasound follow-up, particularly in patients with a volume of splenic necrosis >50%, have been suggested.6
Fun fact: Did you know that splenic embolization was first performed by Frank E. Maddison of Madison, Wisconsin, in 1973 using autologous clot to treat recurrent gastrointestinal hemorrhage arising from esophageal varies?
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- Ohmoto K, Yoshioka N, Tomiyama Y, et al. Improved prognosis of cirrhosis patients with esophageal varices and thrombocytopenia treated by endoscopic variceal ligation plus partial splenic embolization. Digestive Diseases and Sciences 2006;51:352-58. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10620-006-3137-8
- Wang P, Liu R, Tong L, et al. Partial splenic embolization has beneficial effects for the management of gastroesophageal variceal hemorrhage. Saudi J Gastroenterol 2016;22:399-406. http://europepmc.org/articles/PMC5184739/
- Wan Y-M, Li Y-H, Xu Z-Y, et al. Comparison of TIPS alone and combined with partial splenic embolization (PSE) for the management of variceal bleeding. European Radiology 2019; https://doi.org/10.100/s00330-019-06046-6
- N’Kontchou G, Seror O, Bourcier V, et al. Partial splenic embolization in patients with cirrhosis: efficacy, tolerance, and long-term outcome in 32 patients. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol 2005;17:179-84. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15674095
- Hadduck TA, McWilliams JP. Partial splenic artery embolization in cirrhotic patients. World J Radiol 2014;28:6:160-168. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4037542/
- Smith M, Ray CE. Splenic artery embolization as an adjunctive procedure for portal hypertension. Semin Intervent Radiol 2012;29:135-39. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3444868/
- Maddison FE. Embolic therapy of hypersplenism. Invest Radiol 1973;8:280-281. https://journals.lww.com/investigativeradiology/Citation/1973/07000/Embolic_Therapy_of_Hypersplenism.54.aspx
Contributed in part by Theodore R. Pak, MD, PhD, Mass General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.