Carvedilol reduces the risk of decompensation and mortality in patients with compensated cirrhosis in a competing-risk meta-analysis

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Background & aims: Whether non-selective β-blockers can prevent decompensation of cirrhosis warrants clarification. Carvedilol might be particularly effective since its intrinsic vasodilatory activity may ameliorate hepatic vascular resistance, a major mechanism of portal hypertension in early cirrhosis. We assessed whether carvedilol may prevent decompensation and improve survival in patients with compensated cirrhosis and clinically significant portal hypertension (CSPH).
Methods: By systematic review we identified randomized-controlled trials (RCTs) comparing carvedilol vs. control therapy (no-active treatment or endoscopic variceal ligation [EVL]) in patients with cirrhosis and CSPH without previous bleeding. We performed a competing-risk time-to-event meta-analysis using individual patient data (IPD) obtained from principal investigators of RCTs. Only compensated patients were included. Primary outcomes were prevention of decompensation (liver transplantation and death were competing events) and death (liver transplantation was a competing event). Models were adjusted using propensity scores for baseline covariates with the inverse probability of treatment weighting (IPTW) approach.
Results: Among 125 full-text studies evaluated, 4 RCTs were eligible. The 4 provided IPD and were included, comprising 352 patients with compensated cirrhosis, 181 treated with carvedilol and 171 controls (79 received EVL and 92 placebo). Baseline characteristics were similar between groups. Standardized differences were <10% by IPTW. The risk of developing decompensation of cirrhosis was lower with carvedilol than in controls (subdistribution hazard ratio [SHR] 0.506; 95% CI 0.289-0.887; p = 0.017; I2 = 0.0%, Q-statistic-p = 0.880), mainly due to a reduced risk of ascites (SHR 0.491; 95% CI 0.247-0.974; p = 0.042; I2 = 0.0%, Q-statistic-p = 0.384). The risk of death was also lower with carvedilol (SHR 0.417; 95% CI 0.194-0.896; p = 0.025; I2 = 0.0%, Q-statistic-p = 0.989).
Conclusions: Long-term carvedilol therapy reduced decompensation of cirrhosis and significantly improved survival in compensated patients with CSPH. This suggests that screening patients with compensated cirrhosis for CSPH to enable the prompt initiation of carvedilol could improve outcomes.
Prospero registration number: CRD42019144786.
Lay summary: The transition from compensated cirrhosis to decompensated cirrhosis is associated with markedly reduced life expectancy. Therefore, preventing decompensation in patients with compensated cirrhosis would be associated with greatly improved patient outcomes. There has been controversy regarding the use of non-selective β-blockers (portal pressure-lowering medications) in patients with cirrhosis and elevated portal blood pressure (portal hypertension). Herein, using a competing-risk meta-analysis to optimize sample size and properly investigate cirrhosis as a multistate disease and outcomes as time-dependent events, we show that carvedilol (a non-selective β-blocker) is associated with a reduced risk of decompensating events and improved survival in patients with cirrhosis and portal hypertension.


Journal of hepatology