- 1Centre for Liver and Digestive Disorders, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.
- 2Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Austin Health, Melbourne, Australia.
- 3Digestive Disease Research Center, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina, USA.
- 4The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia.
- 5College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
Background: Advanced chronic liver disease is an increasing cause of premature morbidity and mortality in the UK. Portal hypertension is the primary driver of decompensation, including the development of ascites, hepatic encephalopathy and variceal haemorrhage. Non-selective beta blockers (NSBB) reduce portal pressure and are well established in the prevention of variceal haemorrhage. Carvedilol, a newer NSBB, is more effective at reducing portal pressure due to additional α-adrenergic blockade and has additional anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-fibrotic effects.
Aim: To summarise the available evidence on the use of beta blockers, specifically carvedilol, in cirrhosis, focussing on when and why to start METHODS: We performed a comprehensive literature search of PubMed for relevant publications.
Results: International guidelines advise the use of NSBB in primary prophylaxis against variceal haemorrhage in those with high-risk varices, with substantial evidence of efficacy comparable with endoscopic band ligation (EBL). NSBB are also well established in secondary prophylaxis, in combination with EBL. More controversial is their use in patients without large varices, but with clinically significant portal hypertension. However, there is gathering evidence that NSBB, particularly carvedilol, reduce the risk of decompensation and improve survival. While caution is advised in patients with advanced cirrhosis and refractory ascites, recent evidence suggests that NSBB can continue to be used safely, and that premature discontinuation may be detrimental.
Conclusions: With increasing evidence of benefit independent of variceal bleeding, namely retardation of decompensation and improvement in survival, it is time to consider whether carvedilol should be offered to all patients with advanced chronic liver disease.