Non-invasive (and minimally invasive) diagnosis of oesophageal varices

2008 Journal of Hepatology 49, 4 (520-527)

Current guidelines recommend screening all cirrhotic patients by endoscopy, to identify patients at risk of bleeding who should undergo prophylactic treatment. However, since the prevalence of varices in cirrhotic patients is variable, universal screening would imply a large number of unnecessary endoscopies and a heavy burden for endoscopy units. In addition, compliance to screening programs may be hampered by the perceived unpleasantness of endoscopy. Predicting the presence of oesophageal varices by non-invasive means might increase compliance and would permit to restrict the performance of endoscopy to those patients with a high probability of having varices. Over the years, several studies have addressed this issue by assessing the potential of biochemical, clinical and ultrasound parameters, transient elastography, CT scanning and video capsule endoscopy. The platelet count/spleen diameter ratio, CT scanning and video capsule endoscopy have shown promising performance characteristics, although none of them is equivalent to EGD. These methods are perceived by patients as preferable to endoscopy and thus might increase adherence to screening programs. Whether this will compensate for the lower sensitivity of these alternative techniques, and ultimately improve the outcomes if more patients undergo screening, is the crucial question that will have to be answered in the future.

Pubmed : 18706733