Drug treatment of portal hypertension

Natl Med J India. Jul-Aug 1998;11(4):173-7.


Despite advances in endoscopic management, variceal bleeding is still associated with a significant mortality. In recent years, several therapeutic agents have been shown to lower the portal pressure and reduce variceal bleeding. In patients presenting with acute variceal bleeding, the drug of choice is somatostatin; it is as effective as endoscopic treatment and is virtually free of side-effects. The second-line drug therapy in acute variceal bleeding is a combination of vasopressin and nitroglycerine. Every patient with a history of variceal bleeding is at an increased risk of rebleeding and should receive some form of preventive therapy. In these patients, non-selective beta-blockers and endoscopic treatment are equally effective and either modality can be used. Since each episode of variceal bleeding carries a 30%-50% risk of death, cirrhotics who have never experienced variceal bleeding but are at high risk to develop this complication (high portal pressure, variceal grade III and IV, and presence of red wale markings over the varices) should be identified and treated. Beta-blockers are the treatment of choice and should be continued for the rest of the patient's life. Isosorbide-5-mononitrate is also useful in lowering the portal pressure and may be combined with beta-blockers in those who do not respond to the use of beta-blockers alone. However, isosorbide-5-mononitrate should not be given alone for a long duration because of its adverse haemodynamic effects. Additional measures which are useful in decreasing the risk of variceal bleeding are good control of ascites, especially with spironolactone and a low salt diet, and early recognition and treatment of bacterial infections.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Hemostatics / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Portal / drug therapy*
  • Hypertension, Portal / physiopathology
  • Kidney / blood supply
  • Recurrence
  • Sclerotherapy
  • Somatostatin / therapeutic use
  • Varicose Veins / drug therapy


  • Hemostatics
  • Somatostatin