Distal Splenorenal Shunt


What is the distal splenorenal shunt procedure?

A distal splenorenal shunt is a surgical procedure. During the surgery, the vein from the spleen (called the splenic vein) is detached from the portal vein and reattached to the left kidney (renal) vein. This surgery selectively reduces the pressure in your varices (the large, swollen veins that develop across the stomach and esophagus) and controls the bleeding and clotting.

Fig 1: Portal hypertension before the distal splenorenal shunt surgery is performed.

Varices develop across the esophagus and stomach from the pressure in the portal vein. The backup of pressure also causes the spleen to become enlarged.

Fig 2: After the distal splenorenal shunt surgery is performed.

The vein from the spleen is disconnected from the portal vein and reconnected to the top of the left renal vein. The left gastric vein is disconnected from the portal vein and tied off.

The blood flows from the varices through the splenic vein, to the left renal vein and empties into the inferior vena cava. The blood flow to the liver is maintained through the portal vein.

Why do I need to have the distal splenorenal shunt procedure?

X-rays and blood tests confirm that you have variceal bleeding due to portal hypertension. Portal hypertension is a condition characterized by increased pressure in the portal vein (the vein that carries blood from the digestive organs to the liver). Your physician has chosen the distal splenorenal shunt procedure to treat this condition. This procedure helps control the bleeding in the varices, without taking the blood flow away from your liver, which could make your liver disease worse.

Procedure Details

What tests are required before the procedure?

Before the procedure, you will have had the following tests to determine the extent and severity of your portal hypertension condition:

Before the procedure, your physician may ask you to undergo pre-operative tests. The tests can include an electrocardiogram (also called an EKG), chest X-ray or additional blood tests. If your physician thinks you will need additional blood products (such as plasma), they will be ordered at this time.

Before the surgery

You will meet with the nurse clinician and your physician to discuss the steps of the surgery and any questions you may have. Before the surgery, please follow these guidelines:

Eating and drinking

  • DO NOT eat or drink anything after midnight the day of the surgery, or as directed.


  • Discontinue taking beta-blocker medications (such as Inderal®) 48 hours prior to the surgery.
  • Ask your physician if you should take your other daily medications before the surgery.

Note: Do not discontinue any medications without first consulting with your physician.

On the day of the surgery

Please do not bring valuables such as jewelry or credit cards.

A general anesthetic will be given to you before the surgery. The time required to perform the surgery is about four hours.

You will be required to stay in the hospital for approximately seven days after the surgery. Please bring a robe and any other items you would like to make your stay more comfortable.

After the surgery

  • A temporary catheter will be placed in your bladder initially after surgery to drain urine.
  • A nasogastric tube will be placed through your nose and into your stomach for 24 hours after the surgery. This tube will remove gas or gastric secretions directly from the stomach. Once your digestive system starts working again, your diet will gradually advance and you will be able to eat solid foods.
  • An IV will be inserted in your neck to deliver fluids and medication.
  • Your pain will be managed by a patient-controlled pain pump. This will deliver narcotics directly into your IV on demand (when you decide you need them).
  • Within seven days after the surgery, you will have an angiogram to determine the effectiveness of the shunt. If the shunt appears to be functioning properly, you will be discharged the following day.
  • A dietitian will explain your nutrition requirements before you go home. You will be asked to follow a low-fat, low-salt diet. You will probably be required to consume no more than 2 grams of sodium (salt) or 30 grams of fat per day for six to eight weeks after the procedure. The dietitian will explain how to figure these amounts in your diet.

* Note: The therapies and time intervals listed above are typical and may change depending on the expertise of your healthcare provider and your condition.

Risks / Benefits

What are the potential complications of the distal splenorenal shunt surgery?

  • Ascites: An accumulation of fluid in the abdomen. This condition can be treated with medications called diuretics and restricted sodium intake.

Recovery and Outlook

What do I need to do to maintain my health after the distal splenorenal shunt surgery?

  • Be sure to follow the dietary recommendations provided by your dietitian.
  • Progressively increase your activity level.

When to Call the Doctor

What is the follow-up medical care for the distal splenorenal shunt surgery?

  • Ten days after your hospital discharge date, you will meet with the surgeon to evaluate your progress. Lab work will be done at this time. You will meet again with your surgeon one month after the date of your surgery and then again in three months for additional lab work.
  • You will meet with the surgeon and nurse clinician six months after the date of your surgery and then annually for the following:
    • Lab work.
    • Ultrasound of the shunt.
  • More frequent follow-up visits may be necessary, depending on your condition.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/14/2020.


  • J. Michael Henderson JM, Boyer TD, Kutner MH, et al. Distal Splenorenal Shunt Versus Transjugular Intrahepatic Portal Systematic Shunt for Variceal Bleeding: A Randomized Trial. Gastroenterology 130(6):1643–51.
  • Jenkins RL, Gedaly R, Pomposelli JJ, et al. Distal splenorenal shunt: role, indications, and utility in the era of liver transplantation. Arch Surg. 1999 Apr;134(4):416-20.
  • Elwood DR, Pomposelli JJ, Pomfret EA, et al. Distal splenorenal shunt: preferred treatment for recurrent variceal hemorrhage in the patient with well-compensated cirrhosis. Arch Surg. 2006 Apr;141(4):385-8.

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