Failure to control bleeding and early rebleeding account for the high mortality associated with variceal hemorrhage in cirrhosis. We compared endoscopic sclerotherapy to terlipressin, a drug that effectively controls acute bleeding while reducing in-hospital mortality. This multicenter randomized controlled trial included 219 cirrhotic patients admitted for endoscopy-proven acute variceal bleeding and randomized to receive repeated injections of terlipressin during 6 days (n = 105) or emergency sclerotherapy (n = 114). Success was defined as obtaining control of bleeding (24-hour bleeding-free period during the first 48 hours) and lack of early rebleeding (any further bleeding from initial control to 5 days later) and survival during the study. Both groups were similar at inclusion. Failure rate for terlipressin was 33% and 32% for sclerotherapy (not significant [NS]). Early rebleeding was responsible for 43% and 44% of failures, respectively. This high efficacy was observed in both Child-Pugh class A + B and Child-Pugh class C patients. Both treatments were similar regarding transfusion requirements, in-hospital stay, and 6-week mortality (26 vs. 19 patients). Side effects appeared in 20% of patients receiving terlipressin and in 30% of those on sclerotherapy (P = .06); being serious in 4% and 7%, respectively (NS). In conclusion, terlipressin and sclerotherapy are equally highly effective therapies achieving the initial control of variceal bleeding and preventing early rebleeding. Both treatments are safe, but terlipressin is better tolerated. Therefore, terlipressin may represent a first-line treatment in acute variceal bleeding until the administration of elective therapy, especially in hospitals where a skilled endoscopist is not available 24 hours a day.