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Keywords:

  • ascites and liver transplantation;
  • functional disorders and liver transplantation;
  • hypersplenism and liver transplantation;
  • splenectomy and liver transplantation;
  • splenic artery aneuysms and liver transplantation

Splenectomy (SPL) in cirrhotic patients undergoing liver transplantation (LTx) may resolve specific problems related to the procedure itself, in case of functional and life-threatening clinical situations often occurring as a result of liver cirrhosis and portal hypertension.

Methods. A single-center experience of ten splenectomies in a series of 180 consecutive adult liver transplant patients over a period of 6 yr is reported. The mean patient age was 46.8±9.5 yr (range 25–57 yr). Indications for SPL were post-operative massive ascitic fluid loss (n=3), severe thrombocytopenia (n=3), acute intra-abdominal hemorrhage (n=2), infarction of the spleen (n=1), and multiple splenic artery aneurysms (n=1).

Results. Extreme ascites production due to functional graft congestion disappeared post-SPL, with an improvement of the hepatic and renal functions. SPL was also effective in cases of thrombocytopenia persistence post-LTx, leading to an increase in the platelet count after about 1 wk. Bleeding episodes related to left-sided portal hypertension or trauma were also resolved. The rejection rate during hospitalization was 0%, and no other episodes were recorded in the course of the long-term follow-up. However, sepsis with a fatal outcome occurred in 4 patients, i.e. between 2 and 3 wk post-SPL in three cases and 1 yr after the procedure as a result of pneumococcal infection in the last case. Fatal traumatic cranial injury occurred 3 yr post-LTx in another case. Five patients (50%) are still alive and asymptomatic after a median follow-up period of 36 months.

Conclusions. The lowering of the portal flow appears to resolve unexplained post-operative ascitic fluid loss as a result of functional graft congestion following LTx. However, because of the enhanced risk of SPL-related sepsis, a partial splenic embolization (PSE) or a spleno-renal shunt could be used as an alternative procedure because it allows us to preserve the immunological function of the spleen. SPL is indicated in case of post-transplant bleeding due to left-sided portal hypertension and trauma, spleen infarction, and to enable prevention of hemorrhage in liver transplant patients with multiple splenic artery aneurysms. Severe and persistent thrombocytopenia could be treated with PSE. Because the occurrence of fatal sepsis post-SPL is a major complication in LTx, functional disorders, such as ascites and thrombocytopenia, should be treated with a more conservative approach.