Background: Analysis of primary prevention studies of the use of beta-blockers has shown clear reductions in variceal bleeding in cirrhotic patients with varices. In contrast, the usefulness of prophylactic endoscopic sclerotherapy, alone or in combination with propranolol, in the management of these patients is still under investigation. The present study compared the efficacy of combined sclerotherapy and propranolol versus propranolol alone in the primary prevention of hemorrhage in cirrhotic patients with varices and high (greater than 18 mm Hg) intraesophageal variceal pressure.
Methods: Patients were randomly assigned to propranolol (42 patients) or to propranolol plus sclerotherapy (44 patients). The mean duration of follow-up was 26.8 +/- 7.7 and 24.6 +/- 9.8 months, respectively.
Results: During this period 23% of the patients in the combination group experienced at least 1 episode of bleeding due to varices or congestive gastropathy as compared with 14% in the propranolol group (not significant). Twenty-three patients (52%) in the combination group developed complications as compared with 8 (19%) in the propranolol group (p = 0.002). The mortality rate was similar in both groups (14% and 18%, respectively). The only independent factor predictive of survival was the level of serum albumin.
Conclusions: Endoscopic sclerotherapy should not be used for the primary prevention of hemorrhage in cirrhotic patients at high risk of variceal bleeding who are undergoing treatment with propranolol.