Bleeding from oesophageal varices has a high death rate. Injection sclerotherapy is the most appropriate treatment but facilities for this are not always available. Balloon tamponade and vasoactive therapy may be used as stop gap measures. Somatostatin and octreotide are therapeutic candidates for the treatment of variceal bleeding and there are several trials that have compared somatostatin and octreotide with other treatments for this condition. The results of these trials are summarised and discussed. A meta analysis of the group of trials of placebo or H2 antagonists v somatostatin or octreotide showed a significant advantage of somatostatin or octreotide in terms of efficacy, but no difference in mortality. The trials discussed seem to show that somatostatin and octreotide are at least as effective as other treatments, with the benefit of fewer adverse effects, and thus represent the best vasoactive agents. Additionally, they may have a role as adjuvant treatment to emergency sclerotherapy for active bleeders and this must be further investigated.
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