The nature of the sudden death following acute complete closure of the main portal vein was long a mystery. This accident occurs at times, after operations on the gallbladder, from a massive thrombosis of the vessel. The condition can easily be reproduced in experimental animals by tying a ligature round the vein, whereupon symptoms of prostration and shock invariably develop and death supervenes, usually within an hour.
Claude Bernard,1 in his lectures of 1858, first recorded the fact that ligation of the portal vein is rapidly fatal within an hour or two. Thus, he said: "It is peculiar that this animal succumbed so rapidly and with these bizarre symptoms. It must be admitted as due to a cause other than hemorrhagic congestion of the intestine." In lectures published nearly twenty years later, he2 mentioned the same experiment but now stated: "The mechanism of death is easy to understand.