The results of surgical treatment of bleeding esophageal varices over an 8-year period in 155 patients are reviewed. Primary treatment of bleeding was conservative, with intravenous administration of vasopressin and balloon tamponade. Emergency operations were carried out after 48 hours in persons with persistent bleeding who were surgical candidates. Operative mortality was higher in this group (40%) than in those undergoing elective or urgent operations (each 10%). Postoperative encephalopathy occurred in 35% of patients and was correlated closely to late death after establishment of a shunt. The mesocaval shunt is no better than the portacaval but appears to be a good alternative in an emergency. In a controlled trial the distal splenorenal shunt was found to be associated with a lower rate of postoperative encephalopathy than the portacaval shunt, but thus far the long-term survival rates have not differed.