Beta-blockers in liver cirrhosis

Authors Valerio Giannelli, Barbara Lattanzi, Ulrich Thalheimer, Manuela Merli.


Since the original description of the effectiveness of β-blockers in lowering the portal pressure and therefore the risk of variceal bleeding, more than 500 articles in the English literature on the use of non selective β-blockers (NSBB) in cirrhosis have been published. The use of NSBB in pre-primary prophylaxis of variceal bleeding is currently not indicated. In primary prophylaxis, patients with high risk small varices or large/medium varices should receive primary prophylaxis either with NSBB or with endoscopic band ligation if there are contraindications to NSBB. For secondary prophylaxis the current recommendation is to receive a combination of NSBB and endoscopic variceal ligation. In addition to lowering portal pressure, NSBB can also reduce bacterial translocation, potentially exerting multiple beneficial effects which go beyond the reduction of bleeding risk. Carvedilol is a NSBB with intrinsic anti-α(1)-adrenergic activity, possibly more effective than propranolol in lowering portal hypertension. A potential harmful effect of propranolol in patients with cirrhosis with refractory ascites deserves further confirmation. NSBB remain the cornerstone of therapy in cirrhotic patients with portal hypertension.

Keywords β-Blockers, portal hypertension, propranolol, nadolol, carvedilol, cirrhosis, HVPG, variceal bleeding

Ann Gastroenterol 2014; 27 (1): 20-26

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