INTRODUCTION: Portal hypertension exacerbates the disease course of cirrhosis and is responsible for major complications, including bleeding from esophageal varices, ascites, and encephalopathy. More than 40 years ago, Lebrec and colleagues introduced beta-blockers to prevent esophageal bleeding. However, evidence now suggests that beta-blockers may cause adverse reactions in patients with advanced cirrhosis.

AREAS COVERED: This review addresses current evidence for the pathophysiology of portal hypertension, focusing on the pharmacological effects of treatment with beta-blockers, indications for preventing variceal bleeding, their effects on decompensated cirrhosis, and the risk of treating patients suffering from decompensated ascites and renal dysfunction with beta-blockers.

EXPERT OPINION: The diagnosis of portal hypertension should be based on direct measurements of portal pressure. Carvedilol or nonselective beta-blockers are the first-line treatment for patients with medium-to-large varices as primary or secondary prophylaxis, in Child C patients with small varices, and sometimes for patients with clinically significant portal hypertension (HVPG ≥ 10 mm Hg, irrespective of the presence of varices) to prevent decompensation. Caution should be used when treating decompensated patients who are suspected of imminent cardiac and renal dysfunction. Future strategies for managing patients with portal hypertension should aim for more personalized treatment that takes into account the disease stage.

TidsskriftExpert review of gastroenterology & hepatology
Udgave nummer6
Sider (fra-til)519-529
Antal sider11
StatusUdgivet - 2023


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