Variceal bleeding is one of the complications of cirrhosis that leads to significant morbidity and mortality. It is recommended that all patients with cirrhosis be screened for gastroesophageal varices and those with large varices should be offered primary prophylaxis. Nonselective beta-blockers (nadolol or propranolol) are the treatment of choice for primary prophylaxis but there are a number of limitations to their use. A number of studies have evaluated the efficacy of variceal band ligation (VBL) in providing primary prophylaxis, either in comparison to no treatment or to beta-blockers. VBL is very effective in preventing the initial bleed when compared to no treatment, but it is not superior to beta-blockers. In this issue of the journal the effect of beta-blockers on bleeding in patients undergoing VBL is examined and no benefit compared to VBL alone is shown. Thus, patients with large varices should be treated with beta-blockers and VBL should be offered to those cirrhotics who are unable to take beta-blockers. Further study is required to determine if VBL in combination with beta-blockers is more effective than the beta-blockers alone.
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