The pathogenesis of portal hypertension arising in patients with myeloproliferative disorders has been difficult to understand because liver biopsy findings often show minimal changes. It has been suggested that increased splenic blood flow, hepatic infiltration with hematopoietic cells or sinusoidal fibrosis may be important. We have reviewed the autopsy findings and clinical histories of 97 patients with polycythemia vera and 48 patients with agnogenic myeloid metaplasia collected from three institutions and from the Polycythemia Vera Study Group. Cirrhosis was present in seven patients, one of whom had bleeding varices. Esophageal varices were present clinically in 10 patients without cirrhosis (seven polycythemia and three agnogenic myeloid metaplasia). All of these patients had lesions in small or medium-sized portal veins and four had stenosis of the extrahepatic portal vein with histology compatible with organized thrombi. Nodular regenerative hyperplasia occurred in 14.6% and correlated closely with the presence of portal vein lesions. Thirty patients had > 500 ml of ascites, seven of these patients also had varices and six of them had hepatic vein thrombosis. Ascites also correlated with hepatic vein disease confined to small intrahepatic branches. No correlation was seen between hepatic hematopoietic infiltration and signs of portal hypertension.
We conclude that esophageal varices are common and are almost always associated with portal vein lesions visible by light microscopy. These portal vein lesions, and the secondary effects of nodular regenerative hyperplasia and portal hypertension, are most likely a result of portal vein thrombosis in patients with myeloproliferative disorders. (HEPATOLOGY 1990;12:1166–1174).