Use of Nonselective β-Blockers in Patients With End-Stage Liver Disease and Select Complications

Ann Pharmacother. 2020 Jun;54(6):583-593. doi: 10.1177/1060028019893092. Epub 2019 Dec 6.


Objective: To review the literature and recommendations for nonselective β-blockers (NSBBs) in the setting of variceal bleeding prophylaxis and decompensated liver disease. Data Sources: Literature search of MEDLINE was performed (1988 to October 2019) using the following search terms: cirrhosis, advanced cirrhosis, β-blocker, decompensation, prophylaxis. Abstracts, peer-reviewed publications, clinical practice guidelines, and product monographs were reviewed. Study Selection and Data Extraction: Relevant English language studies and those conducted in humans were considered for analysis and inclusion. Data Synthesis: Evidence that suggests that NSBBs are harmful in advanced cirrhosis is overshadowed by confounding variables and small patient populations. The majority of the available evidence suggests neutral or beneficial effects on mortality with continuation of NSBBs despite liver disease progression. Based on the available literature, guidelines, and expert consensuses, NSBBs can be considered within this patient population and may have a positive impact on the majority of these patients. Relevance to Patient Care and Clinical Practice: This review summarizes current place in therapy for NSBBs in the setting of cirrhosis and variceal bleeding prophylaxis. It also includes a discussion of the literature for use of NSBBs within the setting of different acute decompensations in which the data and recommendations for use are less clear. Conclusions: Recent evidence shows neutral or positive results for NSBB use in particular decompensation subgroups, which suggests that NSBBs can be used cautiously with close monitoring in patients with advanced cirrhosis. Questions still remain regarding optimal agent and dose and whether agents can be safely restarted after an acute decompensation episode.

Keywords: carvedilol; cirrhosis; end-stage liver disease; nadolol; nonselective β-blocker; propranolol.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists / administration & dosage
  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists / adverse effects
  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • End Stage Liver Disease / complications
  • End Stage Liver Disease / drug therapy*
  • Esophageal and Gastric Varices / etiology
  • Esophageal and Gastric Varices / prevention & control*
  • Gastrointestinal Hemorrhage / etiology
  • Gastrointestinal Hemorrhage / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Liver Cirrhosis / complications
  • Liver Cirrhosis / drug therapy*


  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists