Background and study aims: Acute variceal bleeding is a life−threatening complication of liver cirrhosis. Essential factors for survival after variceal bleeding are the rapidity and efficacy of initial primary hemostasis. Endoscopic and vasoactive therapy is the gold standard in the management of acute variceal hemorrhage. The primary aim of this study was to evaluate the use of self−expandable metallic stents to arrest uncontrollable acute variceal bleeding.
Patients and methods: Between November 2002 and May 2005, esophageal stents were implanted in 20 patients (18 men, two women; mean age 52, range 27±87) with massive ongoing bleeding from esophageal varices, as an alternative treatment to balloon tamponade. The patients had not been successfully managed with prior pharmacologic or endoscopic therapy. They had had one to five previous bleeding episodes (mean 2.4). Eight of the patients were in Child±Pugh grade B and 12 in grade C. A new type of stent with special introducers was developed that allowed placement without radiographic assistance.
Results: The stents were successfully placed in all of the patients and were left in place for 2±14 days. Bleeding from the esophageal varices ceased immediately after implantation of the stent in all cases. While the stent was in place, further diagnostic steps were carried out to optimize management of the patients’ illness and portal hypertension. No recurrent bleeding, morbidity, or mortality occurred during treatment with the esophageal stent. All of the stents were extracted without any complications after definitive treatment had been started.
Conclusions: In this pilot study, the new method of implantation of an esophageal stent was found to be a safe and effective treatment for massive bleeding from esophageal varices in patients with liver cirrhosis. These initial clinical results will of course have to be confirmed in comparative studies including a large number of patients.