Beta blockers should be the first line of prevention against variceal bleeding in patients with cirrhosis and portal hypertension. While banding is similarly effective in reducing the incidence of such bleeding, it can have fatal complications and is more expensive. These findings are published in the September issue of Liver Transplantation, a journal by John Wiley & Sons. The article is also available online via Wiley Interscience at http://www.interscience.wiley.com/journal/livertransplantion
Patients with liver disease often develop portal hypertension from a blockage in the blood flow through the liver. The increased blood pressure in the portal vein causes large veins, called varices, to develop across the esophagus and stomach to bypass the blockage. The se varices become fragile and can bleed easily, causing frightening symptoms like vomiting blood, as well as ascites and encephalopathy. Two ways to prevent variceal bleeding are beta blockers and endoscopic variceal ligation, however it is unclear which is better for patients.
To compare the safety and efficacy of the two therapies in the prevention of primary variceal bleeding, researchers led by Lorenzo Norberto and Lino Polese of the University of Padova in Italy, conducted a randomized controlled trial among patients awaiting liver transplantation. Between September 2001 and December 2005, they enrolled sixty-two patients with Child-B-C cirrhosis and high-risk esophagal varices into their study. The patients were randomly divided between treatment with the beta blocker, propranolol, or variceal banding. All patients had an EGD and a clinical examination every 6 months after beginning treatment.
The 31 patients who took beta blockers started on a low dose and increased it until they achieved a 25 percent reduction of their baseline heart rate. Five patients had to suspend the treatment due to compli
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