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Digestion. 1999;60 Suppl 2:31-41.

Somatostatin or octreotide in acute variceal bleeding.

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Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Hôpital Cantonal, Geneva, Switzerland.


In patients with cirrhosis, somatostatin or octreotide administration is followed by a transient decrease in the hepatic venous pressure gradient and azygos blood flow. Although no clear-cut changes in variceal pressure are observed and the exact mechanisms of acute hemodynamic changes induced by somatostatin or its derivatives are still unknown, this provided the rationale for its use in patients with variceal hemorrhage. The only known sustained hemodynamic effect of octreotide is to prevent increases in hepatic venous gradient or azygos blood flow in response to food intake. Somatostatin infusion can be as effective as sclerotherapy in the initial control of bleeding esophageal varices in patients with cirrhosis and is associated with fewer complications. Octreotide also seems to be as effective as endoscopic therapy in the control of acute variceal bleeding, although larger studies should be performed before its efficacy and safety profile can be fully evaluated. The combination of somatostatin or long-acting analogues to endoscopic therapy has recently been delineated as one of the most promising approaches in these patients. Early somatostatin administration with repeat boluses, starting several hours before sclerotherapy is combined, eases the endoscopic procedure and reduces bleeding control failure rate. Although two studies also showed that octreotide, when started at the time of sclerotherapy or variceal banding, also improves bleeding control, a conclusion on octreotide use in these patients is premature. Optimal administration schedules and doses of somatostatin or octreotide are still unknown. The safety of octreotide in patients with variceal bleeding, which has recently been challenged, should be assessed in larger trials. Recent data suggesting that octreotide combination to beta-blockers or sclerotherapy may represent a useful approach for long-term prevention of rebleeding in these patients will have to be confirmed.

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