Primary prophylaxis is advisable for all patients with moderate-sized or large esophageal varices. After the first episode of bleeding, secondary prophylaxis should be initiated to prevent rebleeding. Multiple treatment modalities are available for each circumstance. Optimal regimens have not yet been established but are under investigation. At present, nonselective beta-blockers are the drugs of choice for primary prophylaxis. In patients with actively bleeding varices, octreotide or, in rare cases, a combination of vasopressin and nitroglycerin is used in conjunction with endoscopic band ligation of the varices. Either a beta-blocker, band ligation, or a combination of the two is appropriate for secondary prophylaxis. The combination is often the better choice for patients for whom primary prophylaxis with beta-blockers has failed. As in any treatment situation, the specific approach must be tailored to clinical circumstances. The patient's preferences and willingness or ability to comply with the therapy must be taken into account as well as the physician's expertise. Interventions for hepatic encephalopathy predominantly focus on reducing the amount of ammonia absorbed or endogenously generated in the body. They include correction of precipitating factors, bowel cleansing, and lactulose therapy. In difficult cases, a combination of lactulose and neomycin, metronidazole, or rifaximin is recommended. Because the prognosis for patients with hepatic encephalopathy is generally poor, orthotopic liver transplantation should be considered.
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