Primary prophylaxis: Patients with cirrhosis who have esophageal varices but who have never had a bleeding episode may be treated medically or endoscopically. Without treatment, approximately 30% of cirrhotic patients with varices bleed and this risk is reduced by approximately 50% with therapy. Medical therapy includes nonselective beta blockers with or without nitrates. Compliance and side effects limit efficacy. Primary prophylaxis with endoscopic sclerotherapy is not warranted because of evidence suggesting that complications outweigh benefits. Studies of endoscopic therapy with ligation (endoscopic banding) demonstrate that in select patients (those with large varices), endoscopic banding may reduce the risk of first bleeding episode when compared with propranolol. Patients with large varices may benefit from a combination of banding with nonselective beta blockers. Secondary prophylaxis: After an initial variceal bleed, the risk of a second bleed is high and therapy is warranted to reduce the risk of rebleeding. The options are similar to those for primary prophylaxis, and in addition to medical and endoscopic therapy, transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunts (TIPS) and surgical shunts are therapeutic options. The combination of endoscopic therapy with medical therapy is the initial approach to prevent variceal rebleeding. Endoscopic banding is preferred to sclerotherapy because banding is associated with lower bleeding rates and fewer complications. TIPS is useful in cases refractory to endoscopic therapy or in uncontrolled variceal hemorrhage. Surgical shunts are typically reserved for patients in whom TIPS cannot be performed for technical reasons or for well-compensated cirrhotic patients. Acute variceal bleeding: Acute bleeding from esophageal varices requires an endoscopic evaluation and therapeutic intervention. Technically, endoscopic banding may not be possible because of limited visualization from bleeding and sclerotherapy is used because it is easier to perform in this setting. A continuous intravenous drip of octreotide should be initiated if variceal bleeding is suspected. If variceal bleeding cannot be controlled, then a Minnesota tube or Sengstaken-Blakemore tube should be placed by someone with experience. TIPS is effective rescue therapy for controlling acute variceal hemorrhage in circumstances when other methods fail.
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References and Recommended Reading
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