Prevention of variceal rebleeding

Lancet. 2003 Mar 15;361(9361):952-4. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(03)12778-X.


Context: Variceal bleeding is the most frequent severe complication of portal hypertension and a leading cause of death and liver transplantation in patients with cirrhosis. Patients surviving a variceal bleed are at high risk of rebleeding (over 60% at 1 year). Portacaval shunts and transjugular intrahepatic portasystemic shunts (TIPS) are effective for prevention of rebleeding but carry a high risk of hepatic encephalopathy. Endoscopic techniques include band ligation (EBL) and injection sclerotherapy (EIS). Drug approaches are based on non-selective beta blocker with or without isosorbide-5-mononitrate (ISMN).

Starting point: David Patch and colleagues (Gastroenterology 2002; 123: 1013-19) randomised 102 patients surviving a variceal bleeding to EBL or drug therapy with propranolol with the addition of ISMN if target reductions in portal pressure (evaluated by the hepatic venous pressure-gradient [HVPG]) were not achieved at 3 months. Overall, results of drug therapy were similar to those of EBL (44% vs 54% rebleeding at 1 year). There were no differences in survival or non-bleeding complications. Christophe Bureau and colleagues (Hepatology 2002; 36: 1361-66) treated 34 patients with cirrhosis and portal hypertension with propranolol and measured HVPG after a median of 4 days. Target HVPG reductions were achieved in 13 "responders". ISMN was added in the 21 "non-responders" and HVPG measured again: seven more patients achieved target HPVG reduction. Re-bleeding rates were lower in responders than in non-responders (10% vs 64%). Both studies suggest that drug therapy can be improved by adding ISMN to b blockers in those patients with an insufficient decrease in HVPG. WHERE NEXT? Long-term drug therapy is emerging as effective treatment for the prevention of variceal rebleeding. The role of HVPG monitoring as a guide to identifying patients requiring further treatment needs to be further evaluated. Trials to determine the best treatment for patients who do not respond to drug therapies are also required.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Esophageal and Gastric Varices* / etiology
  • Esophageal and Gastric Varices* / mortality
  • Esophageal and Gastric Varices* / prevention & control
  • Hemorrhage* / etiology
  • Hemorrhage* / mortality
  • Hemorrhage* / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Portal / complications*
  • Sclerotherapy
  • Secondary Prevention


  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists