Distal splenorenal shunt (DSRS) is a once-only form of treatment. It is suitable for many black South Africans with non-cirrhotic variceal bleeding who cannot attend repeated follow-up sclerotherapy sessions. However, persistent hyperbilirubinaemia and encephalopathy may occur following DSRS in schistosomiasis. Forty-one consecutive patients with DSRS have been treated over a 7-year period. The causes of portal hypertension were schistosomiasis (32), portal vein thrombosis (8) and diffuse nodular hyperplasia (1). Operative mortality was 6%. Encephalopathy was observed in 1 patient. Galactose elimination capacity (GEC) and technetium-diethylenetriamine penta-acetic acid hepatic perfusion index (HPI) were used to assess liver function and hepatic perfusion pre- and postoperatively, respectively, in schistosomiasis. GEC was 348 +/- 37 (M +/- SD) before, compared with 343 +/- 67 postoperatively (P = 0.78). HPI showed long-term preservation of hepatopetal portal venous flow following DSRS. Morbidity and mortality were observed only in patients with schistosomiasis associated with hepatitis B chronic active hepatitis. DSRS is ideal treatment in selected patients with non-cirrhotic variceal bleeding.