The 35-year odyssey of beta blockers in cirrhosis: any gender difference in sight?

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Cirrhosis is the end-stage of chronic liver disease and leads to the development of portal hypertension and its complications such as esophagogastric varices. Non-selective beta blockers (NSBB) are the keystone for the treatment of portal hypertension since the 1980s and, over the decades, several studies have confirmed their beneficial effect on the prevention of variceal (re)bleeding. Pharmacological studies showed effects of gender, sex hormones, oral contraceptives, and pregnancy on cytochrome P450 (CYPs) enzymes that metabolise NSBB, suggesting that gender differences might exist in the effect of NSBB. In this review, we focused on the 35-year knowledge about the use of beta blockers in cirrhosis and potential gender differences. We specifically examined the role of NSBB in pre-primary, primary and secondary prophylaxis of variceal bleeding, compared two commonly used NSBB (i.e., Propranolol and Carvedilol), and present the current controversies about the window of treatment in advanced cirrhosis with a specific focus on gender differences in NSBB effects. NSBB are not currently recommended in pre-primary prophylaxis of varices mainly because of lack of proven efficacy. On the other hand, NSBB are strongly recommended in patient with cirrhosis as primary (as alternative to endoscopic band ligation, EBL) and secondary prophylaxis (in addition to EBL) of variceal bleeding. To date, no studies have focused specifically on the effect of gender on NSBB treatment. Data extrapolated from clinical studies show that gender was neither a risk factor for the development of varices nor associated with a different response to treatment in primary or secondary prophylaxis. According to the available guidelines, no different, gender-based treatment for portal hypertension is recommended.

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