Transjugular Intrahepatic Portosystemic Shunt (TIPS)
Transjugular Intrahepatic Portosystemic Shunt or TIPS is a procedure that uses imaging guidance to connect the portal vein to the hepatic vein in the liver. A small metal device called a stent is placed to keep the connection open and allow it to bring blood draining from the bowel back to the heart while avoiding the liver. TIPS may successfully reduce internal bleeding in the stomach and esophagus in patients with cirrhosis and may also reduce the accumulation of fluid in the abdomen (ascites).
Tell your doctor if there's a possibility you are pregnant and discuss any recent illnesses, medical conditions, allergies and medications you're taking. You may be advised to stop taking aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or blood thinners several days prior to your procedure and instructed to not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before. Your doctor will tell you which medication to take in the morning. Leave jewelry at home and wear loose, comfortable clothing. You will be asked to wear a gown. Plan to stay overnight at the hospital for one or more days.
- What is a Transjugular Intrahepatic Portosystemic Shunt (TIPS)?
- What are some common uses of the procedure?
- How should I prepare?
- What does the equipment look like?
- How does the procedure work?
- How is the procedure performed?
- What will I experience during and after the procedure?
- Who interprets the results and how do I get them?
- What are the benefits vs. risks?
- What are the limitations of TIPS?
What is a Transjugular Intrahepatic Portosystemic Shunt (TIPS)?
A transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS) is a tract created within the liver using x-ray guidance to connect two veins within the liver. The shunt is kept open by the placement of a small, tubular metal device commonly called a stent.
During a TIPS procedure, interventional radiologists use image guidance to make a tunnel through the liver to connect the portal vein (the vein that carries blood from the digestive organs to the liver) to one of the hepatic veins (three veins that carry blood away from the liver back to the heart). A stent is then placed in this tunnel to keep the pathway open.
Patients who typically need a TIPS have portal hypertension, meaning they have increased pressure in the portal vein system. This pressure buildup can cause blood to flow backward from the liver into the veins of the spleen, stomach, lower esophagus, and intestines, causing enlarged vessels, bleeding and the accumulation of fluid in the chest or abdomen. This condition is most commonly seen in adults, often as a result of chronic liver problems leading to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver). Portal hypertension can also occur in children, although children are much less likely to require a TIPS.
What are some common uses of the procedure?
A TIPS is used to treat the complications of portal hypertension, including:
- variceal bleeding, bleeding from any of the veins that normally drain the stomach, esophagus, or intestines into the liver.
- portal gastropathy, an engorgement of the veins in the wall of the stomach, which can cause severe bleeding.
- severe ascites (the accumulation of fluid in the abdomen) and/or hydrothorax (in the chest).
- Budd-Chiari syndrome, a blockage in one or more veins that carry blood from the liver back to the heart.
How should I prepare?
Tell your doctor about all the medications you take, including herbal supplements. List any allergies, especially to local anesthetic, general anesthesia, or contrast materials. Your doctor may tell you to stop taking aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or blood thinners before your procedure.
Women should always tell their doctor and technologist if they are pregnant. Doctors will not perform many tests during pregnancy to avoid exposing the fetus to radiation. If an x-ray is necessary, the doctor will take precautions to minimize radiation exposure to the baby. See the Safety in X-ray, Interventional Radiology and Nuclear Medicine Procedures page for more information about pregnancy and x-rays.
Your doctor will likely tell you not to eat or drink anything after midnight before your procedure. Your doctor will tell you which medications you may take in the morning.
You should plan to stay overnight at the hospital for one or more days.
The nurse will give you a gown to wear during the procedure.
What does the equipment look like?
This exam typically uses a radiographic table, one or two x-ray tubes, and a video monitor. Fluoroscopy converts x-rays into video images. Doctors use it to watch and guide procedures. The x-ray machine and a detector suspended over the exam table produce the video.
Ultrasound machines consist of a computer console, video monitor and an attached transducer. The transducer is a small hand-held device that resembles a microphone. Some exams may use different transducers (with different capabilities) during a single exam. The transducer sends out inaudible, high-frequency sound waves into the body and listens for the returning echoes. The same principles apply to sonar used by boats and submarines.
The technologist applies a small amount of gel to the area under examination and places the transducer there. The gel allows sound waves to travel back and forth between the transducer and the area under examination. The ultrasound image is immediately visible on a video monitor. The computer creates the image based on the loudness (amplitude), pitch (frequency), and time it takes for the ultrasound signal to return to the transducer. It also considers what type of body structure and/or tissue the sound is traveling through.
A catheter is a long, thin plastic tube that is considerably smaller than a "pencil lead." It is about 1/8 inch in diameter.
The stent used in this procedure is a small wire mesh tube, often covered with a fabric made of GORE-TEX®.
This procedure may use other equipment, including an intravenous line (IV), ultrasound machine and devices that monitor your heart beat and blood pressure.
How does the procedure work?
A TIPS reroutes blood flow in the liver and reduces abnormally high blood pressure in the veins of the stomach, esophagus, bowel and liver, reducing the risk of bleeding from enlarged veins across the esophagus and stomach.
A TIPS procedure involves creating a pathway through the liver that connects the portal vein (the vein that carries blood from the digestive organs to the liver) to a hepatic vein (one of three veins that carry blood from the liver to the heart).
A stent placed inside this pathway keeps it open and allows some of the blood that would ordinarily pass through the liver to bypass the liver entirely, reducing high blood pressure in the portal vein and the associated risk of bleeding from enlarged veins.
How is the procedure performed?
Image-guided, minimally invasive procedures such as a TIPS are most often performed by a specially trained interventional radiologist in an interventional radiology suite or occasionally in the operating room. Some interventional radiologists prefer performing this procedure while the patient is under general anesthesia, while some prefer conscious sedation for their patient. The advantage of general anesthesia is that the patient will not feel anything.
The doctor or nurse will position you on your back.
The doctor or nurse may connect you to monitors that track your heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen level, and pulse.
A nurse or technologist will insert an intravenous (IV) line into a vein in your hand or arm to administer a sedative. This procedure may use moderate sedation. It does not require a breathing tube. However, some patients may require general anesthesia.
The nurse will sterilize the area of your body where the catheter is to be inserted. They will sterilize and cover this area with a surgical drape.
Your physician will numb an area just above your right collarbone with a local anesthetic.
The doctor will make a very small skin incision at the site.
Using ultrasound, the doctor will identify your internal jugular vein, which is situated above your collarbone, and guide a catheter, a long, thin, hollow plastic tube into the vessel.
Using real time x-ray guidance, your doctor will then guide the catheter toward the liver and into one of the hepatic veins. Pressures are measured in the hepatic vein and right heart to confirm the diagnosis of portal hypertension, and also to determine the severity of the condition. To help plan for the placement of the TIPS stent, a contrast material will be injected in the hepatic vein to identify the portal venous system. Access is then gained from the hepatic vein into the portal system using a TIPS needle (a special long needle extending from the neck into the liver). A stent is then placed under fluoroscopy extending from the portal vein into the hepatic vein. Once the stent is in the correct position, the balloon is inflated, expanding the stent into place.
The balloon is then deflated and removed along with the catheter. Subsequently, pressures are measured to confirm reduction in portal hypertension. Additional portal venograms are also performed to confirm satisfactory blood flow through the TIPS.
The doctor applies pressure to prevent any bleeding and covers the opening in the skin with a bandage. No sutures are necessary.
You will be admitted to the hospital following your procedure, where you will be closely observed.
This procedure is usually completed in an hour or two but may take up to several hours depending on the complexity of the condition and vascular anatomy.
What will I experience during and after the procedure?
The doctor or nurse will attach devices to your body to monitor your heart rate and blood pressure.
You will feel a slight pinch when the nurse inserts the needle into your vein for the IV line and when they inject the local anesthetic. Most of the sensation is at the skin incision site. The doctor will numb this area using local anesthetic. You may feel pressure when the doctor inserts the catheter into the vein or artery. However, you will not feel serious discomfort.
If the procedure uses sedation, you will feel relaxed, sleepy, and comfortable. You may or may not remain awake, depending on how deeply you are sedated.
When the needle is advanced through the liver and the pathway is expanded by the balloon, you may experience discomfort. If you feel pain, you should inform your physician; you may be given extra intravenous medications.
As the contrast material passes through your body, you may feel warm. This will quickly pass.
After the procedure, you will be monitored closely and your head will be kept elevated for a few hours after you return to your room. Often, symptoms are mild or controlled enough that the procedure can be done electively and patients may go home the next day. However, the amount of bleeding that can occur can sometimes be life threatening and those patients are monitored in intensive care beforehand and during recovery.
You should be able to resume your normal activities in seven to 10 days.
Follow-up ultrasounds will be performed frequently after the TIPS procedure to make sure that it remains open and functions properly.
Who interprets the results and how do I get them?
Prior to leaving the hospital, you may have an ultrasound exam to determine the effectiveness of the procedure and placement of the stent.
After the procedure is complete, the interventional radiologist will tell you whether the procedure was a success.
What are the benefits vs. risks?
- A TIPS is designed to produce the same physiological results as a surgical shunt or bypass, without the risks that accompany open surgery.
- TIPS is a minimally invasive procedure that typically has a shorter recovery time than surgery.
- Your TIPS should have less of an effect than open surgical bypass on future liver transplantation surgery because the abdomen has not been entered, thus there is no scar tissue formed in the abdomen.
- The stent that keeps the shunt open (TIPS) is contained entirely inside the diseased liver, and is removed with it during a transplant operation.
- Studies have shown that this procedure is successful in reducing variceal bleeding in more than 90 percent of patients.
- No surgical incision is necessary—only a small nick in the skin that does not need stitches.
- Any procedure that penetrates the skin carries a risk of infection. The chance of infection requiring antibiotic treatment appears to be less than one in 1,000.
- There is a very slight risk of an allergic reaction to the contrast material used for venograms. Also, kidney failure (temporary or permanent) due to contrast material use is a concern, particularly in patients with poor kidney function.
- Any procedure that places a catheter inside a blood vessel carries certain risks. These risks include damage to the blood vessel, bruising or bleeding at the puncture site, and infection. The doctor will take precautions to mitigate these risks.
Other possible complications of the procedure include:
- muscle stiffness in the neck
- bruising on the neck at the point of catheter insertion
- delayed stenosis, or narrowing within the stent, which is less common with the current generation of GORE-TEX-lined stents
Serious complications, reported in fewer than five percent of cases, may include:
- occlusion, or complete blockage, of the stent and rapid recurrence of symptoms
- infection of the stent or fabric lining
- abdominal bleeding that might require a transfusion
- laceration of the hepatic artery, which may result in severe liver injury or bleeding that could require a transfusion or urgent intervention
- heart arrhythmias or congestive heart failure
- radiation injury to the skin is a rare complication (it may happen in complex and lengthy procedures requiring extended fluoroscopy use)
- death (rare)
What are the limitations of TIPS?
Patients with more advanced liver disease are at greater risk for worsening liver failure after TIPS. If your liver failure is severe, a TIPS may not be the best use and a different procedure may be needed to control your symptoms. They are also at risk for encephalopathy, which is an alteration of normal brain function that can lead to confusion. This is because toxic substances in the bloodstream are ordinarily filtered out by the liver. The TIPS may cause too much of these substances to bypass the liver, so a patient who already has encephalopathy because of their liver disease may not be a good candidate for the procedure. Encephalopathy can be treated with certain medications, a special diet or, by revising the stent, but sometimes the stent must be blocked off intentionally to solve the problem.
Although extremely rare, children may also require a TIPS procedure. TIPS in children are more likely to be performed before liver transplant in those with ascites or variceal bleeding resistant to traditional medical treatments. The greatest difference in performing TIPS in children is their tremendous variability in size, physiology, and medical diseases. This can result in significant challenges in creating the TIPS.
Additional Information and Resources
Society of Interventional Radiology (SIR): Liver Disease
This page was reviewed on March, 23, 2021