Background & Aims: Emergency sclerotherapy is used as a first-line therapy for variceal bleeding in cirrhosis, although pharmacologic treatment stops bleeding in most patients. We performed a meta-analysis comparing emergency sclerotherapy with pharmacologic treatment. Methods: MEDLINE (1968-2002), EMBASE (1986-2002), and the Cochrane Library (2002;4) were searched to retrieve randomized controlled trials comparing sclerotherapy with vasopressin (± nitroglycerin), terlipressin, somatostatin, or octreotide for variceal bleeding in cirrhosis. Outcome measures were failure to control bleeding, rebleeding, blood transfusions, adverse events, and mortality. Results: Fifteen trials were identified. Sclerotherapy was not superior to terlipressin, somatostatin, or octreotide for any outcome and to vasopressin for rebleeding, blood transfusions, death, and adverse events; it was superior to vasopressin for the control of bleeding in a single trial flawed by a potential detection bias. Sclerotherapy was associated with significantly more adverse events than somatostatin. In a predefined sensitivity analysis, combining all of the trials irrespective of the control treatment, risk differences (sclerotherapy minus control) and confidence intervals (CIs) were as follows: failure to control bleeding, -0.03 (-0.06 to 0.01); mortality, -0.035 (-0.07 to 0.008); adverse events, 0.08 (0.02 to 0.14). Mortality risk difference was -0.01 (-0.07 to 0.04) in good-quality trials and -0.08 (-0.14 to -0.02) in poor-quality trials. Conclusions: Available evidence does not support emergency sclerotherapy as the first-line treatment of variceal bleeding in cirrhosis when compared with vasoactive drugs, which control bleeding in 83% of patients. Therefore, endoscopic therapy might be added only in pharmacologic treatment failures.
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