Budd-Chiari syndrome (BCS) is an uncommon disorder defined as hepatic venous outflow tract obstruction, which is independent of the level or mechanism of obstruction, given the obstruction is not due to pericardial disease, cardiac disease or sinusoidal obstruction syndrome (veno-occlusive disease). Primary Budd-Chiari syndrome is defined as obstruction due to a predominantly venous process (thrombosis or phlebitis), whereas secondary Budd-Chiari syndrome is defined as compression or invasion of the hepatic veins and/or the inferior vena cava by a lesion that originates outside of the vein (for example, a malignancy).
In 80 percent of the cases, there is some underlying cause that leads to the development of Budd-Chiari syndrome, and the majority are related to a hypercoagulable state. This aspect of Budd-Chiari syndrome must be considered for diagnosis and treatment.
Most important causes of Budd-Chiari syndrome are the following:
Almost half of the cases of Budd-Chiari syndrome are related to some type of myeloproliferative disorder like polycythemia vera and essential thrombocythemia because these disorders are almost always accompanied by some type of hypercoagulability.
10% of Budd-Chiari syndrome cases are related to malignancy, which causes either direct compression or invasion of vessels. These, along with hypercoagulability, lead to venous thrombosis and obstruction. The most common cancer related to the Budd-Chiari syndrome is hepatocellular carcinoma, followed by cancers of the adrenal gland, renal cell carcinoma, leiomyosarcoma, right atrial myxoma, and Wilms tumor.
Lesions of the liver
Sometimes, infection or a space-occupying lesion of the liver leads to the compression of the vasculature. Hepatic cysts, adenomas, cystadenomas, invasive aspergillosis, and aortic aneurysm are common lesions that lead to Budd-Chiari syndrome.
Pregnancy and OCPs (oral contraceptives)
Oral contraceptives and pregnancy lead to the hypercoagulable state and are responsible for about 20 percent of cases of Budd-Chiari syndrome.
20% of the cases are idiopathic
Other hypercoagulable states responsible for Budd-Chiari syndrome include:
Factor V (Leiden) mutation which leads to protein C resistance
Antiphospholipid antibody syndrome
Protein C deficiency
Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria
In non-Asian countries, Budd-Chiari syndrome is usually diagnosed in the third or fourth decade of life, predominantly in females, and it is most commonly due to the hepatic vein blockage. In Asian countries, it is more common in males, and the most common cause is inferior vena cava blockage or a combination of inferior vena cava and hepatic vein blockage.
The occlusion of a single hepatic vein usually remains silent, but when 2 hepatic veins get occluded, it causes venous congestion that stretches the liver capsule. This can be very painful. The sinusoids begin to dilate, and there is a filtration of interstitial fluid leading to liver congestion. When the filtrated fluid exceeds the capacity of the lymphatic system to drain it, it starts passing through the liver capsule leading to ascites. Due to the thrombosis and obstruction to venous flow, there is portal venous hypertension and decreased blood flow to the liver via the portal vein. As a result, there is a hypoxic injury to the centrilobular hepatocytes. In acute severe cases, this can lead to liver failure, while in chronic cases, it can lead to ascites and hepatomegaly with preserved liver function. Over time, fibrosis develops, leading to cirrhosis.
The most common lobe affected in Budd-Chiari syndrome is the caudate lobe because its blood is directly shunted into the inferior vena cava. Hence, when the hepatic veins are occluded, the caudate lobe undergoes hypertrophy.
Biopsy of the liver of the patient suffering from Budd-Chiari syndrome shows the following features:
Acute: Clinical manifestations develop rapidly over a few weeks, with intractable ascites and hepatic necrosis. Venous collaterals are not seen.
Subacute: Has insidious onset, with patients taking up to three months to develop symptoms. Venous collaterals develop, leading to minimal ascites and hepatic necrosis.
Chronic: Patients present with complications of cirrhosis. Venous collaterals are present.
Fulminant liver failure can occur in patients with BCS and is characterized by acute liver injury along with elevated transaminases, jaundice, elevated prothrombin time/international normalized ratio (PT/INR), and hepatic encephalopathy; the latter usually develops within eight weeks of the development of jaundice. Venous collaterals are not seen.
The majority of patients with Budd-Chiari syndrome present with the triad of abdominal pain, ascites, and hepatomegaly. Due to the non-specific nature of findings and a wide range of presentations, a high degree of suspicion is needed to diagnose this condition.
Acute and subacute presentation: Sudden onset of ascites, abdominal pain, jaundice, hepatomegaly, renal failure, hepatic encephalopathy.
Chronic presentation (most common): Progressive ascites and absence of jaundice. Half of the patients can present with renal impairment.
Rare presentation: Tender hepatomegaly, fulminant/sub-fulminant hepatic failure, jaundice, and renal failure.
On physical examination, the following findings can be seen:
BCS should be suspected when there is:
(1) Sudden onset of ascites and painful hepatomegaly
(2) Massive ascites with relatively normal liver functions
(3) Sinusoidal dilation in liver biopsy without heart disease
(4) Fulminant hepatic failure along with hepatomegaly and ascites
(5) Unexplained chronic liver disease
(6) Liver disease with a thrombogenic disorder.
There is no individual test that establishes the diagnosis of Budd-Chiari syndrome. The diagnosis is based on classic clinical manifestations and conditions predisposing to thrombosis, such as the presence of malignancy.
Doppler ultrasonography is the initial test of choice and usually helps in confirming the diagnosis. If it is unavailable, equivocal, or cannot be performed, computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be helpful. If these tests fail to establish a diagnosis, but suspicion is still high, venography may be helpful.
Blood / biochemical abnormalities:
Non-specific except for mild elevation in serum aminotransferases (ALT/AST) and alkaline phosphatase level in 25-50% patients
Liver biopsy: while liver biopsy can be used for the diagnosis of Budd-Chiari syndrome, there are more non-invasive methods available. Liver biopsy often shows necrosis, hemorrhage, and congestion in the central zone.
The treatment of Budd-Chiari syndrome is focused on alleviating the obstruction, preventing the progression of the clot, limiting progressive liver injury, and preventing or managing complications.
Goals of treatment:
• Relieving obstruction
• Correcting underlying conditions
• Monitoring liver deterioration
Treatment of Budd-Chiari syndrome:
Liver transplantation: In patients who fail all therapies or who have developed decompensated cirrhosis, liver transplantation may be an option. The ten-year survival rate ranges from 69-84% as per two reported studies.
Differential diagnosis of Budd Chiari syndrome includes the following:
Factors contributing to a good prognosis for Budd-Chiari syndrome are:
Factors contributing to a bad prognosis:
Complications of Budd-Chiari syndrome are mostly related to underlying conditions and degree of liver failure.
In general, untreated Budd-Chiari syndrome can lead to the following:
There is a need to educate patients, especially those with risk factors, regarding the possibility of this condition. Basic education regarding symptoms consistent with liver abnormalities should be taught. Patients should be advised to seek a professional opinion if they begin to develop symptoms. More importantly, regular follow up with their clinicians should be encouraged.
Clinicians need to have a high clinical suspicion for this condition in patients with risk factors.
Treatment of this condition requires an interprofessional team consisting of hepatologist/gastroenterologist, hematologist, vascular surgeon, transplant hepatologist, interventional radiologist, and transplant surgeon.
A hematologist might be consulted for an opinion regarding underlying hematologic condition if no other predisposing condition is evident.
In those with acute liver failure, admission, and management in an intensive care unit (ICU) is warranted, with evaluation by a vascular surgeon, transplant hepatologist, interventional radiologist, and transplant surgeon. A liver transplant should be considered. [Level 3]
In patients with an acute form with an identifiable clot, thrombolytic therapy is advisable. [Level 5]
Routine stenting with angioplasty was found to be superior to angioplasty only for preventing restenosis in one study. [Level 2]
Once the condition has resolved, patients should be counseled regarding the need for continuing lifelong anticoagulation and proper follow-up.
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