Variceal haemorrhage is a common medical emergency with a high mortality (30–50%). Adequate resuscitation is vital, and once stabilised the patient should be moved to a high-dependency area. Antibiotics reduce mortality, and the vasoactive drug terlipressin should be administered if early endoscopy is unavailable. Early endoscopy is essential both to make the diagnosis and to allow therapeutic measures to be performed. The evidence suggests that variceal band ligation is the most effective therapy for oesophageal varices. If gastric varices are found at the index endoscopy the evidence at present is inadequate to be certain which is the best treatment, but both endoscopic therapy with cyanoacrylate or thrombin and transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic stent shunt (TIPSS) have been reported to be of benefit. When initial treatments fail, rescue therapy should be initiated. Most authorities agree that TIPSS is the rescue therapy of choice. Many questions remain concerning the treatment of acute variceal bleeding, particularly the ideal therapy for gastric varices and the role of combination vasoactive and endoscopic therapy. Randomised controlled trials are required to answer these important issues.