Survival after prophylactic sclerotherapy was assessed in a single-center study involving 99 cirrhotic (41 alcoholic) patients enrolled over 8-yr. The wedged hepatic vein pressure gradient was measured; those with pressure greater than or equal to 12 mm Hg were randomized to receive sclerotherapy or no treatment. The rest were not randomized. Patients in all three groups who bled were treated with emergency endoscopy and sclerotherapy. Stratification according to presence of ascites was also undertaken. Median follow-up was 61 mo (range = 14 to 107 mo). Survival among unrandomized patients was significantly longer than among randomized patients (p less than 0.006), but there was no significant difference between those treated by sclerotherapy and the controls (p = 0.27). Alcoholic cirrhotic patients undergoing sclerotherapy had better 2-yr survival than did the controls (80% vs. 43%; p = 0.09), but this benefit was not sustained at 5 yr. Survival in the nonalcoholic patient groups was identical. Only 10 of 50 deaths were caused by variceal bleeding. Forty-eight percent of patients with large varices bled, compared with 20% of patients with small varices. Wedged hepatic vein pressure less than 12 mm Hg accurately identified alcoholic patients at low risk of variceal bleeding but not nonalcoholic patients. Only four episodes of variceal bleeding were attributable to elective sclerotherapy. We conclude that in our population, prophylactic sclerotherapy alone does not improve survival. The discrepancy in survival between alcoholic and nonalcoholic cirrhotic patients suggests that factors other than variceal hemorrhage may be responsible for the difference.