BACKGROUND The presence of oesophageal varices is associated with the risk of upper gastrointestinal bleeding. Endoscopic variceal ligation is used to prevent this occurrence but the ligation procedure may be associated with complications. OBJECTIVES To assess the beneficial and harmful effects of band ligation versus no intervention for primary prevention of upper gastrointestinal bleeding in adults with cirrhosis and oesophageal
varices. SEARCH METHODS We combined searches in the Cochrane Hepato-Biliary Group Controlled Trials Register, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, Embase, LILACS, and Science Citation Index with manual searches. The last search update was 9 February 2019. SELECTION CRITERIA We included randomised clinical trials comparing band ligation verus no intervention regardless of publication status, blinding, or language in the analyses of benefits and harms, and observational studies in the assessment of harms. Included participants had cirrhosis and oesophageal varices with no previous history of variceal bleeding. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS Three review authors extracted data independently. The primary outcome measures were all-cause mortality, upper gastrointestinal bleeding, and serious adverse events. We undertook meta-analyses and presented results using risk ratios (RRs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) and I(2) values as a marker of heterogeneity. In addition, we calculated the number needed to treat to benefit (NNTTB) for the primary outcomes . We assessed bias control using the Cochrane Hepato-Biliary domains; determined the certainty of the evidence using GRADE; and conducted sensitivity analyses including Trial Sequential Analysis. MAIN RESULTS Six randomised clinical trials involving 637 participants fulfilled our inclusion criteria. One of the trials included an additional small number of participants (< 10% of the total) with non-cirrhotic portal hypertension/portal vein block. We classified one trial as at low risk of bias for the outcome, mortality and high risk of bias for the remaining outcomes; the five remaining trials were at high risk of bias for all outcomes. We downgraded the evidence to moderate certainty due to the bias risk. We gathered data on all primary outcomes from all trials. Seventy-one of 320 participants allocated to band ligation compared to 129 of 317 participants allocated to no intervention died (RR 0.55, 95% CI 0.43 to 0.70; I(2) = 0%; NNTTB = 6 persons). In addition, band ligation was associated with reduced risks of upper gastrointestinal bleeding (RR 0.44, 95% CI 0.28 to 0.72; 6 trials, 637 participants; I(2) = 61%; NNTTB = 5 persons), serious adverse events (RR 0.55, 95% CI 0.43 to 0.70; 6 trials, 637 participants; I(2) = 44%; NNTTB = 4 persons), and variceal bleeding (RR 0.43, 95% CI 0.27 to 0.69; 6 trials, 637 participants; I(2) = 56%; NNTTB = 5 persons). The non-serious adverse events reported in association with band ligation included oesophageal ulceration, dysphagia, odynophagia, retrosternal and throat pain, heartburn, and fever, and in the one trial involving participants with either small or large varices, the incidence of non-serious side effects in the banding group was much higher in those with small varices, namely ulcers: small versus large varices 30.5% versus 8.7%; heartburn 39.2% versus 17.4%. No trials reported on health-related quality of life.Two trials did not receive support from pharmaceutical companies; the remaining four trials did not provide information on this issue. AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS This review found moderate-certainty evidence that, in patients with cirrhosis, band ligation of oesophageal varices reduces mortality, upper gastrointestinal bleeding, variceal bleeding, and serious adverse events compared to no intervention. It is unlikely that further trials of band ligation versus no intervention would be considered ethical.