Background: Controversy exists surrounding pharmacological therapy in acute variceal bleeding.
Aim: To determine the efficacy and safety of terlipressin.
Methods: Randomized trials were identified and duplicate, independent, review identified 20 randomized trials involving 1609 patients that compared terlipressin with placebo, balloon tamponade, endoscopic treatment, octreotide, somatostatin or vasopressin for treatment of acute oesophageal variceal haemorrhage.
Results: Meta-analysis showed that compared to placebo, terlipressin reduced mortality (relative risk 0.66, 95% CI 0.49-0.88), failure of haemostasis (relative risk 0.63, 95% CI 0.45-0.89) and the number of emergency procedures per patient required for uncontrolled bleeding or rebleeding (relative risk 0.72, 95% CI 0.55-0.93). When used as an adjuvant to endoscopic sclerotherapy, terlipressin reduced failure of haemostasis (relative risk 0.75, 95% CI 0.58-0.96), and had an effect on reducing mortality that approached statistical significance (relative risk 0.74, 95% CI 0.53-1.04). No significant difference was demonstrated between terlipressin and endoscopic sclerotherapy, balloon tamponade, somatostatin or vasopressin. Haemostasis was achieved more frequently with octreotide compared to terlipressin (relative risk 1.62, 95% CI 1.05-2.50), but this result was based on unblinded studies. Adverse events were similar between terlipressin and the other comparison groups except for vasopressin, which caused more withdrawals due to adverse events.
Conclusions: Terlipressin is a safe and effective treatment for acute oesophageal variceal bleeding, with or without adjuvant endoscopic sclerotherapy. Terlipressin appears to reduce mortality in acute oesophageal variceal bleeding compared to placebo, and is the only pharmacological agent shown to do so. Future studies will be required to detect potential mortality differences between terlipressin and other therapeutic approaches.