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Background:

Carvedilol is a non-selective vasodilating β-blocker with weak α1 receptor antagonism. Recent studies have demonstrated its potential as a portal hypotensive agent.

Aim:

To assess the haemodynamic effects and patient tolerability of the acute and chronic administration of low-dose carvedilol.

Methods:

Haemodynamic measurements were performed in ten cirrhotic patients before and 1 h after the administration of 12.5 mg oral carvedilol. The study was repeated 4 weeks after daily administration of 12.5 mg carvedilol.

Results:

After acute administration of carvedilol, there was a 23% reduction in the hepatic venous pressure gradient from 16.37 ± 2.14 to 12.56 ± 3.91 mmHg (P < 0.05), with significant falls in the heart rate, mean arterial pressure and cardiac output. Chronic administration resulted in a further fall in the hepatic venous pressure gradient from a baseline of 16.37 ± 0.71 to 9.27 ± 1.40 mmHg (P < 0.001) with the mean arterial pressure being unaffected. The drug was well tolerated with only one patient experiencing asymptomatic hypotension.

Conclusions:

The results show that low-dose carvedilol is an extremely potent portal hypotensive pharmacological agent, and is worthy of further investigation in large randomized trials to assess its effect in preventing variceal haemorrhage.