To compare octreotide with injection sclerotherapy in the treatment of acute variceal haemorrhage, patients admitted with gastrointestinal bleeding and oesophageal varices confirmed by endoscopy were randomised to receive either emergency sclerotherapy with 3% sodium tetradecyl sulphate or octreotide (50 micrograms intravenous bolus plus 50 micrograms per h intravenous infusion for 48 h). At the end of the study period (48 h), the octreotide group also had sclerotherapy to obliterate the varices. 100 patients were recruited. Demographic features including the aetiology of portal hypertension and the Child-Pugh's grading of the two groups were similar. Bleeding was initially controlled in 90% of patients by emergency sclerotherapy and in 84% by octreotide infusion (95% confidence interval 0-19.5, p = 0.55). There were no significant differences between the two groups in early (within 48 h of randomisation) rebleeding (16% vs 14%), blood transfusion (3 units vs 3.5), hospital stay (5 days vs 6 days), or hospital mortality (27% vs 20%). No notable side-effects were associated with octreotide. We conclude that octreotide infusion and emergency sclerotherapy are equally effective in controlling variceal haemorrhage.