Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: January 3, 2013
Liver disease can increase the pressure within the veins in the liver. This, in turn, raises the pressure in the blood from your stomach, intestines, and spleen, which flows into the liver. As a result, the veins in the stomach and esophagus (tube that passes food from the mouth to the stomach) become distended or enlarged (called varices). These can burst and cause life-threatening bleeding.
A TIPS is a decompression channel, a "bypass" that is created between the high and low pressure veins in the liver. High-pressure blood entering the liver can now flow through the TIPS and the pressure is reduced throughout the distended and bleeding veins.
The TIPS procedure is performed in the interventional radiology department by interventional radiology physicians. Using an intravenous (IV) line inserted into a vein in your neck, the physician will thread a small hollow tube (the catheter) into a low pressure vein in the liver and create the connection with the high pressure feeding veins in the liver. You will receive local anesthesia in the area where the catheter is inserted into your neck. You will also receive a sedative medication in an IV to make you relax and not be aware of the procedure.
The TIPS is a "stent" that is made of a metal, spring-like piece that is covered in a fabric to create a tube that keeps the vein bypass open.
A TIPS is most commonly created when the bleeding veins (varices) can no longer be adequately controlled by medications or endoscopy treatments.
This procedure is considered safer than surgery because it requires no incisions and is performed under local anesthesia. A TIPS procedure generally requires 2 hours. Emergency surgery during a bleeding episode may carry a mortality rate as high as 50%.
A TIPS is excellent at preventing repeat bleeding as long as it remains open. At present, TIPS can develop narrowing, which can lead to recurrent bleeding. The narrowing may occur without symptoms. For this reason, you will require regular outpatient follow-up at approximately 3 to 9 month intervals to ensure that the TIPS remains fully functional. The follow-up intervals become less frequent after the first year or tow. Any narrowing within the TIPS are easily treated with an outpatient procedure.
The TIPS procedure is complex, yet in most cases it can be performed with minimal complications. Your physicians will alert you to any unusual potential complications for your particular case.
Both TIPS and liver bypass surgery can lead to mild confusion and lethargy (sleepiness). This is caused by encephalopathy, which can develop because some liver blood is diverted through the TIPS in order to lower the pressure in the veins. This can allow toxins that are normally cleared by the liver to bypass the liver's "filters" and build up in the blood stream. This can usually be treated with a medication that helps clear the toxins, but in rare cases may require reversal of the shunt.
Other possible complications include bruising, bleeding, infection and allergic reaction or kidney damage due to the contrast dye used. Very rare complications include bleeding in the abdomen, infection of the stent, injury to the main liver artery and blockage of the stent. Your physicians will review the potential side effects, the risks versus benefits and symptoms to report to your physician.
In general, patients who are having TIPS placement are admitted to the hospital the night before and are discharged the day after the procedure. If you require the procedure on an emergency basis, your hospital stay may vary.
Your treatment team will keep you comfortable. They can anticipate what parts of the procedure can be painful and increase the amount of sedation during that time. You will be monitored with blood pressure, heart and breathing monitors.