Objective: Beta-blockers have been shown to reduce portal pressure in patients with cirrhosis and limit the development of portosystemic shunts in portal hypertensive animals. Thus, a randomized double-blind trial was conducted to evaluate propranolol in the prevention of the development of large oesophageal varices in patients with cirrhosis without varices or with small varices.
Methods: One hundred and two patients received long-acting propranolol (160 mg/day) and 104 patients received a placebo. At inclusion, there was no significant difference between the two groups in terms of clinical characteristics or biochemical tests. At 2 years, the size of varices was estimated on video recordings.
Results: One-third of the patients were lost to follow-up, and 95%/97% of the remaining patients were compliant in the propranolol and placebo groups, respectively. At 2 years, the proportion of patients with large varices was 31% in the propranolol group and 14% in the placebo group (P< 0.05). Three and four patients bled in the propranolol and placebo groups, respectively, and nine and ten died, respectively.
Conclusion: This trial suggests that propranolol administration cannot be recommended for the prevention of the development of large oesophageal varices in patients with cirrhosis; thus other studies are needed in selected subgroups of patients.