Antibiotic prophylaxis for prevention of spontaneous bacterial peritonitis in liver cirrhosis: systematic review

Acta Gastroenterol Belg. 2021 Apr-Jun;84(2):333-342. doi: 10.51821/84.2.333.


Background and aim: Spontaneous bacterial peritonitis is a potentially life-threatening infection in patients with liver cirrhosis and ascites. Its prevention is vital to improve prognosis of cirrhotic patients. The main objective of this systematic review was to evaluate what is the most efficacious and safest antibiotic prophylactic strategy.

Methods: Studies were located by searching PubMed and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials in The Cochrane Library until February 2019. Randomized controlled trials evaluating primary or secondary spontaneous bacterial peritonitis prophylaxis in cirrhotic patients with ascites were included. The selection of studies was performed in two stages: screening of titles and abstracts, and assessment of the full papers identified as relevant, considering the inclusion criteria. Data were extracted in a standardized way and synthesized qualitatively.

Results: Fourteen studies were included. This systematic review demonstrated that daily norfloxacin is effective as a prophylactic antibiotic for the prevention of spontaneous bacterial peritonitis in patients with cirrhosis. Once weekly ciprofloxacin was not inferior to once daily norfloxacin, with good tolerance and no induced resistance. Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole and norfloxacin have similar efficacy for primary and secondary prophylaxis of spontaneous bacterial peritonitis, however, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole was associated with an increased risk of developing an adverse event. Rifaximin was more effective than norfloxacin in the secondary prophylaxis of spontaneous bacterial peritonitis, with a significant decrease in adverse events and mortality rate.

Conclusions: Continuous long-term selective intestinal decontamination with norfloxacin is the most widely used prophylactic strategy in spontaneous bacterial peritonitis, yet other equally effective and safe options are available.

Keywords: antibiotics; ascites; liver cirrhosis; peritonitis; prophylaxis.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antibiotic Prophylaxis
  • Ascites
  • Bacterial Infections*
  • Humans
  • Liver Cirrhosis / drug therapy
  • Norfloxacin
  • Peritonitis*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Norfloxacin