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Clin Liver Dis. 2001 Aug;5(3):645-63.

Natural history of portal hypertension in patients with cirrhosis.

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  • 1Department of Internal Medicine, University of Milan, Italy.


All patients with cirrhosis will eventually develop portal hypertension and esophagogastric varices. Bleeding from ruptured esophagogastric varices is the most severe complication of cirrhosis and is the cause of death in about one third of patients. The rate of development and growth of esophageal varices is poorly defined but in general seem to be related to the degree of liver dysfunction. Once varices have formed, they tend to increase in size and eventually to bleed. In unselected patients, the incidence of variceal bleeding is about 20% to 30% at 2 years. Variceal size is the single most important predictor of a first variceal bleeding episode. Several prognostic indexes based on endoscopic and clinical parameters have been developed to predict the risk of bleeding; however, their degree of accuracy is unsatisfactory. Death caused by uncontrolled bleeding occurs in about 6% to 8% of patients; the 6-week mortality rate after a variceal hemorrhage is 25% to 30%. There are no good prognostic indicators of death caused by uncontrolled bleeding or death within 6 weeks. Untreated patients surviving a variceal hemorrhage have a 1- to 2-year risk of rebleeding of about 60% and a risk of death of about 40% to 50%. The risk of bleeding is greatest in the first days after a bleeding episode and slowly declines thereafter. All patients surviving a variceal hemorrhage must be treated to prevent rebleeding. Varices can also be found in the stomach of cirrhotic patients, alone or in association with esophageal varices. Gastric varices bleed less frequently but more severely than esophageal varices. Portal hypertensive gastropathy is a common feature of cirrhosis, and its prevalence parallels the severity of portal hypertension and liver dysfunction. Portal hypertensive gastropathy can progress from mild to severe and vice-versa or even disappear completely. Acute bleeding from portal hypertensive gastropathy seems to be relatively uncommon, and less severe than bleeding from varices.

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