Budd–Chiari syndrome: investigation, treatment and outcomes

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Budd–Chiari syndrome is a rare disorder characterised by hepatic venous outflow obstruction. It affects 1.4 per million people, and presentation depends upon the extent and rapidity of hepatic vein occlusion. An underlying myeloproliferative neoplasm is present in 50% of cases with other causes including infection and malignancy. Common symptoms are abdominal pain, hepatomegaly and ascites; however, up to 20% of cases are asymptomatic, indicating a chronic onset of hepatic venous obstruction and the formation of large hepatic vein collaterals. Doppler ultrasonography usually confirms diagnosis with cross-sectional imaging used for complex cases and to allow temporal comparison. Myeloproliferative neoplasms should be tested for even if a clear causative factor has been identified. Management focuses on anticoagulation with low-molecular-weight heparin and warfarin, with the new oral anticoagulants offering an exciting prospect for the future, but their current effectiveness in Budd–Chiari syndrome is unknown. A third of patients require further intervention in addition to anticoagulation, commonly due to deteriorating liver function or patients identified as having a poorer prognosis. Prognostic scoring systems help guide treatment, but management is complex and patients should be referred to a specialist liver centre. Recent studies have shown comparable procedure-related complications and long-term survival in patients who undergo transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunting and liver transplantation in Budd–Chiari syndrome compared with other liver disease aetiologies. Also, the optimal timing of these interventions and which patients benefit from liver transplantation instead of portosystemic shunting remains to be answered.

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