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BACKGROUND: With advancing liver disease and the development of portal hypertension, there are major alterations in somatic and visceral blood flow. Using phase-contrast magnetic resonance angiography, we characterised alterations in blood flow within the hepatic, splanchnic and extra-splanchnic circulations of patients with established liver cirrhosis. AIM: To compare blood flow in splanchnic and extra-splanchnic circulations in patients with varying degrees of cirrhosis and healthy controls. METHODS: In a single-centre prospective study, 21 healthy volunteers and 19 patients with established liver disease (Child's stage B and C) underwent electrocardiogram-gated phase-contrast-enhanced 3T magnetic resonance angiography of the aorta, hepatic artery, portal vein, superior mesenteric artery, and the renal and common carotid arteries. RESULTS: In comparison to healthy volunteers, resting blood flow in the descending thoracic aorta was increased by 43% in patients with liver disease (4.31 ± 1.47 vs. 3.31 ± 0.80 L/min, P = 0.011). While portal vein flow was similar (0.83 ± 0.38 vs. 0.77 ± 0.35 L/min, P = 0.649), hepatic artery flow doubled (0.50 ± 0.46 vs. 0.25 ± 0.15 L/min, P = 0.021) and consequently total liver blood flow increased by 30% (1.33 ± 0.84 vs. 1.027 ± 0.5 L/min, P = 0.043). In patients with liver disease, superior mesenteric artery flow was threefold higher (0.65 ± 0.35 vs. 0.22 ± 0.13 L/min, P < 0.001), while total renal blood flow was reduced by 40% (0.37 ± 0.14 vs. 0.62 ± 0.22 L/min, P < 0.001) and total carotid blood flow unchanged (0.62 ± 0.20 vs. 0.65 ± 0.13 L/min, P = 0.315). CONCLUSIONS: Rather than a generalised systemic hyperdynamic circulation, liver disease is associated with dysregulated splanchnic vasodilatation and portosystemic shunting that, while inducing a high cardiac output, causes compensatory extra-splanchnic vasoconstriction - the 'splanchnic steal' phenomenon. These circulatory disturbances may underlie many of the manifestations of advanced liver disease.

Original publication




Journal article


Aliment pharmacol ther

Publication Date





947 - 954


Adult, Aged, Female, Hemodynamics, Humans, Liver Cirrhosis, Male, Middle Aged, Portal Vein, Prospective Studies, Splanchnic Circulation