AIM: To study the portal hemodynamics and their relationship with the size of esophageal varices seen at endoscopy and to evaluate whether these Doppler ultrasound parameters might predict variceal bleeding in patients with liver cirrhosis and portal hypertension.
METHODS: One hundred and twenty cirrhotic patients with esophageal varices but without any previous bleeding were enrolled in the prospective study. During a 2-year observation period, 52 patients who had at least one episode of acute esophageal variceal hemorrhage constituted the bleeding group, and the remaining 68 patients without any previous hemorrhage constituted the non-bleeding group. All patients underwent endoscopy before or after color Doppler-ultrasonic examination, and images were interpreted independently by two endoscopists. The control group consisted of 30 healthy subjects, matched to the patient group in age and gender. Measurements of diameter, flow direction and flow velocity in the left gastric vein (LGV) and the portal vein (PV) were done in all patients and controls using color Doppler unit. After baseline measurements, 30 min after oral administration of 75 g glucose in 225 mL, changes of the diameter, flow velocity and direction in the PV and LGV were examined in 60 patients with esophageal varices and 15 healthy controls.
RESULTS: The PV and LGV were detected successfully in 115 (96%) and 105 (88%) of 120 cirrhotic patients, respectively, and in 27 (90%) and 21 (70%) of 30 healthy controls, respectively. Among the 120 cirrhotic patients, 37 had F1, 59 had F2, and 24 had F3 grade varices. Compared with the healthy controls, cirrhotic group had a significantly lower velocity in the PV, a significantly greater diameter of the PV and LGV, and a higher velocity in the LGV. In the cirrhotic group, no difference in portal flow velocity and diameter were observed between patients with or without esophageal variceal bleeding (EVB). However, the diameter and blood flow velocity of the LGV were significantly higher for EVB (+) group compared with EVB (-) group (P<0.01). Diameter of the LGV increased with enlarged size of varices. There were differences between F1 and F2, F1 and F3 varices, but no differences between F2 and F3 varices (P = 0.125). However, variceal bleeding was more frequent in patients with a diameter of LGV >6 mm. The flow velocity in the LGV of healthy controls was 8.70±1.91 cm/s (n = 21). In patients with liver cirrhosis, it was 10.3±2.1 cm/s (n = 12) when the flow was hepatopetal and 13.5±2.3 cm/s (n = 87) when it was hepatofugal. As the size of varices enlarged, hepatofugal flow velocity increased (P<0.01) and was significantly different between patients with F1 and F2 varices and between patients with F2 and F3 varices. Variceal bleeding was more frequent in patients with a hepatofugal flow velocity >15 cm/s (32 of 52 patients, 61.5%). Within the bleeding group, the mean LGV blood flow velocity was 16.6±2.62 cm/s. No correlation was observed between the portal blood flow velocity and EVB. In all healthy controls, the flow direction in the LGV was hepatopetal, toward the PV. In patients with F1 varices, flow direction was hepatopetal in 10 patients, to-and-fro state in 3 patients, and hepatofugal in the remaining 18. The flow was hepatofugal in 91% patients with F2 and all F3 varices. Changes in diameter of the PV and LGV were not significant before and after ingestion of glucose (PV: 1.41±1.5 cm before and 1.46±1.6 cm after; LGV: 0.57±1.7 cm before and 0.60±1.5 cm after). Flow direction in the LGV was hepatopetal and to-and-fro in 16 patients and hepatofugal in 44 patients before ingestion of glucose. Flow direction changed to hepatofugal in 9 of 16 patients with hepatopetal and to-and-fro blood flow after ingestion of glucose. In 44 patients with hepatofugal blood flow in the LGV, a significant increase in hepatofugal flow velocity was observed in 38 of 44 patients (86%) with esophageal varices. There was a relationship between the percentage changes in flow velocity and the size of varices. Patients who responded excessively to food ingestion might have a high risk for bleeding. The changes of blood flow velocity in the LGV were greater than those in the PV (LGV: 28.3±26.1%, PV: 7.2±13.2%, P<0.01), whereas no significant changes in the LGV occurred before and after ingestion of glucose in the control subjects.
CONCLUSION: Hemodynamics of the PV is unrelated to the degree of endoscopic abnormalities in patients with liver cirrhosis. The most important combinations are endoscopic findings followed by the LGV hemodynamics. Duplex-Doppler ultrasonography has no value in the identification of patients with cirrhosis at risk of variceal bleeding. Hemodynamics of the LGV appears to be superior to those of the PV in predicting bleeding.