Sheila Sherlock Liver Centre, Royal Free Hospital and the UCL Institute of Liver and Digestive Health, London, UK. Division of Surgery and Interventional Science, University College London, London, UK. Department of Therapy, I.M. Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University, Moscow, Russian Federation. Department of Health Sciences, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK. Royal Free Campus, University College London, London, UK. General and Colorectal Surgery, Ealing Hospital and Imperial College, London, Northwood, UK. Frances Bardsley Academy, London, UK. Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University, Coventry, UK. PSC Support, London, UK. Surgical & Interventional Trials Unit (SITU), UCL Division of Surgery & Interventional Science, London, UK.
The Cochrane database of systematic reviews. 2021;4:Cd013121
BACKGROUND Approximately 40% to 95% of people with cirrhosis have oesophageal varices. About 15% to 20% of oesophageal varices bleed in about one to three years. There are several different treatments to prevent bleeding, including: beta-blockers, endoscopic sclerotherapy, and variceal band ligation. However, there is uncertainty surrounding their individual and relative benefits and harms. OBJECTIVES To compare the benefits and
harms of different treatments for prevention of first variceal bleeding from oesophageal varices in adults with liver cirrhosis through a network meta-analysis and to generate rankings of the different treatments for prevention of first variceal bleeding from oesophageal varices according to their safety and efficacy. SEARCH METHODS We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, Science Citation Index Expanded, World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform, and trials registers to December 2019 to identify randomised clinical trials in people with cirrhosis and oesophageal varices with no history of bleeding. SELECTION CRITERIA We included only randomised clinical trials (irrespective of language, blinding, or status) in adults with cirrhosis and oesophageal varices with no history of bleeding. We excluded randomised clinical trials in which participants had previous bleeding from oesophageal varices and those who had previously undergone liver transplantation or previously received prophylactic treatment for oesophageal varices. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS We performed a network meta-analysis with OpenBUGS using Bayesian methods and calculated the differences in treatments using hazard ratios (HR), odds ratios (OR), and rate ratios with 95% credible intervals (CrI) based on an available-case analysis, according to National Institute for Health and Care Excellence Decision Support Unit guidance. We performed the direct comparisons from randomised clinical trials using the same codes and the same technical details. MAIN RESULTS We included 66 randomised clinical trials (6653 participants) in the review. Sixty trials (6212 participants) provided data for one or more comparisons in the review. The trials that provided the information included people with cirrhosis due to varied aetiologies and those at high risk of bleeding from oesophageal varices. The follow-up in the trials that reported outcomes ranged from 6 months to 60 months. All but one of the trials were at high risk of bias. The interventions compared included beta-blockers, no active intervention, variceal band ligation, sclerotherapy, beta-blockers plus variceal band ligation, beta-blockers plus nitrates, nitrates, beta-blockers plus sclerotherapy, and portocaval shunt. Overall, 21.2% of participants who received non-selective beta-blockers ('beta-blockers') - the reference treatment (chosen because this was the most common treatment compared in the trials) - died during 8-month to 60-month follow-up. Based on low-certainty evidence, beta-blockers, variceal band ligation, sclerotherapy, and beta-blockers plus nitrates all had lower mortality versus no active intervention (beta-blockers: HR 0.49, 95% CrI 0.36 to 0.67; direct comparison HR: 0.59, 95% CrI 0.42 to 0.83; 10 trials, 1200 participants; variceal band ligation: HR 0.51, 95% CrI 0.35 to 0.74; direct comparison HR 0.49, 95% CrI 0.12 to 2.14; 3 trials, 355 participants; sclerotherapy: HR 0.66, 95% CrI 0.51 to 0.85; direct comparison HR 0.61, 95% CrI 0.41 to 0.90; 18 trials, 1666 participants; beta-blockers plus nitrates: HR 0.41, 95% CrI 0.20 to 0.85; no direct comparison). No trials reported health-related quality of life. Based on low-certainty evidence, variceal band ligation had a higher number of serious adverse events (number of events) than beta-blockers (rate ratio 10.49, 95% CrI 2.83 to 60.64; 1 trial, 168 participants). Based on low-certainty evidence, beta-blockers plus nitrates had a higher number of 'any adverse events (number of participants)' than beta-blockers alone (OR 3.41, 95% CrI 1.11 to 11.28; 1 trial, 57 participants). Based on low-certainty evidence, adverse events (number of events) were higher in sclerotherapy than in beta-blockers (rate ratio 2.49, 95% CrI 1.53 to 4.22; direct comparison rate ratio 2.47, 95% CrI 1.27 to 5.06; 2 trials, 90 participants), and in beta-blockers plus variceal band ligation than in beta-blockers (direct comparison rate ratio 1.72, 95% CrI 1.08 to 2.76; 1 trial, 140 participants). Based on low-certainty evidence, any variceal bleed was lower in beta-blockers plus variceal band ligation than in beta-blockers (direct comparison HR 0.21, 95% CrI 0.04 to 0.71; 1 trial, 173 participants). Based on low-certainty evidence, any variceal bleed was higher in nitrates than beta-blockers (direct comparison HR 6.40, 95% CrI 1.58 to 47.42; 1 trial, 52 participants). The evidence indicates considerable uncertainty about the effect of the interventions in the remaining comparisons. AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS Based on low-certainty evidence, beta-blockers, variceal band ligation, sclerotherapy, and beta-blockers plus nitrates may decrease mortality compared to no intervention in people with high-risk oesophageal varices in people with cirrhosis and no previous history of bleeding. Based on low-certainty evidence, variceal band ligation may result in a higher number of serious adverse events than beta-blockers. The evidence indicates considerable uncertainty about the effect of beta-blockers versus variceal band ligation on variceal bleeding. The evidence also indicates considerable uncertainty about the effect of the interventions in most of the remaining comparisons.