Primary prophylaxis of variceal bleeding in cirrhosis

Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2001 Apr;13(4):349-58. doi: 10.1097/00042737-200104000-00008.


Variceal bleeding is the result of portal hypertension, which is a major complication of liver cirrhosis and carries a high mortality rate. Because of the mortality associated with variceal bleeding, strategies for prevention of the first bleed is important. Risk stratification is important in determining those at risk of bleeding from varices and current data suggest that patients with large varices with red signs, severe underlying liver disease and those who have a hepatic venous pressure gradient of greater than 12 mmHg are at high risk of bleeding. Surveillance for varices in patients with cirrhosis is therefore important. The current review evaluates the role of various treatments in the primary prophylaxis of variceal bleeding. The current first choice treatment is non-selective beta-blockers; which is cheap, easy to administer, and reduces the risk of first variceal haemorrhage significantly. Combination of beta-blockers and nitrates looks promising but needs further evaluation. Endoscopic variceal band ligation compares favourably with non-selective beta-blockers in preventing the first bleeding episode in cirrhotic patients and may be an alternative for patients who cannot tolerate, or have contraindications to beta-blockers. The role of monitoring the hepatic venous pressure gradient in those being treated with pharmacological agents, the role of newer drugs such as non-selective beta-blockers with intrinsic alpha-adrenergic activity and angiotensin receptor blockers require further evaluation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Endoscopy
  • Esophageal and Gastric Varices / etiology
  • Esophageal and Gastric Varices / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Portal / complications*
  • Hypertension, Portal / physiopathology
  • Life Style
  • Ligation
  • Liver Cirrhosis / complications*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Sclerotherapy


  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists