Portal hypertension occurs as a complication of liver cirrhosis and complications such as variceal bleeding lead to significant demands on resources. Endoscopy is the gold standard method for screening cirrhotic patients however universal endoscopic screening may mean a lot of unnecessary procedures as the presence of oesophageal varices is variable hence a large time and cost burden on endoscopy units to carry out both screening and subsequent follow up of variceal bleeds. A less invasive method to identify those at high risk of bleeding would allow earlier prophylactic measures to be applied. Hepatic venous pressure gradient (HVPG) is an acceptable indirect measurement of portal hypertension and predictor of the complications of portal hypertension in adult cirrhotics. Varices develop at a HVPG of 10-12 mmHg with the appearance of other complications with HPVG > 12 mmHg. Variceal bleeding does not occur in pressures under 12 mmHg. HPVG > 20 mmHg measured early after admission is a significant prognostic indicator of failure to control bleeding varices, indeed early transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS) in such circumstances reduces mortality significantly. HVPG can be used to identify responders to medical therapy. Patients who do not achieve the suggested reduction targets in HVPG have a high risk of rebleeding despite endoscopic ligation and may not derive significant overall mortality benefit from endoscopic intervention alone, ultimately requiring TIPS or liver transplantation. Early HVPG measurements following a variceal bleed can help to identify those at risk of treatment failure who may benefit from early intervention with TIPS. Therefore, we suggest using HVPG measurement as the investigation of choice in those with confirmed cirrhosis in place of endoscopy for intitial variceal screening and, where indicated, a trial of B-blockade, either intravenously during the initial pressure study with assessment of response or oral therapy with repeat HVPG six weeks later. In those with elevated pressures, primary medical prophylaxis could be commenced with subsequent close monitoring of HVPG thus negating the need for endoscopy at this point. All patients presenting with variceal haemorrhage should undergo HVPG measurement and those with a gradient greater than 20 mmHg should be considered for early TIPS. By introducing portal pressure studies into a management algorithm for variceal bleeding, the number of endoscopies required for further intervention and follow up can be reduced leading to significant savings in terms of cost and demand on resources.
Keywords: Variceal haemorrhage, Portal hypertension, Portal pressure, Varices, Hepatic venous pressure gradient