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Upper Endoscopy

Joseph Sung

5. Variceal bleeding

Joseph J. Y. Sung

Top of page Synopsis  Next section

Variceal bleeding remains one of the most dreadful complications of portal hypertension, causing high mortality. In the last few decades major advances have been made in the treatment of variceal bleeding including endoscopic hemostasis, the use of safe vasoactive agents, and radiological shunting. Among these options, endoscopic variceal ligation stands out as the most promising therapy and hence should be considered a first-line treatment. In many cases, combinations of these treatment modalities offer the best results to control bleeding and improve survival.

Top of page Background  Previous section Next section

Hepatic blood flow is normally about 1.5 liters/min, representing 20–25% of cardiac output. Approximately two-thirds of this flow come from the portal venous system and, with obstruction to this blood flow, the pressure in the portal venous system builds up rapidly. When the pressure of the portal vein exceed 12 mmHg, variceal bleeding may occur. Variceal hemorrhage is the most serious complication of portal hypertension and constitutes about one-fifth of the mortality in cirrhosis. The mortality rate of variceal hemorrhage without treatment could be as high as 70%.

Top of page National history of variceal bleeding  Previous section Next section

Thirty percent of patients with compensated cirrhosis and 60% of patients with decompensated cirrhosis have gastroesophageal varices at the time of presentation [1,2]. Among cirrhotic patients who have no esophageal varices on diagnosis, the incidence of new varices ranges between 5% and 23% after 1 year of follow-up [3–5]. In a recent prospective study, D'Amico et al. reported that the incidence of varices in newly diagnosed compensated cirrhosis is around 4.5% per year and mortality from bleeding 0.5% per year [6].

The risk of developing varices parallels with the severity of liver disease as reflected by Child's grading. It is further suggested that platelet count also predicts the development of varices [6]. The rate of growth of varices from small to large size in compensated patients is faster than the rate of de novo appearance of varices. Among patients with cirrhosis and esophageal varices, the incidence of first variceal hemorrhage ranges from 20 to 40% within 2 years. A recent meta-analysis studying the effects of prophylactic beta-blocker treatment revealed that the mean weighted bleeding rate of the control group (without treatment) at 2 years is around 24% [7].

Interestingly, only one-third of patients with esophageal varices will bleed from their varices in their lifetime [8]. It also means that many patients with gastroesophageal varices may never bleed. Better understanding of risk factors for gastroesophageal variceal bleeding and the capability of predicting which patients with varices will bleed are thus important to plan timely treatment.

Mechanism of bleeding  Previous section Next section

Bleeding from gastroesophageal varices is now widely accepted as a phenomenon of 'explosion' instead of 'erosion'. Thus the risk of hemorrhage is related to the size of the varices, wall thickness, and intravariceal pressure according to LePlace's law. Several groups have confirmed that variceal size is the most important prognostic factor for variceal bleeding [9,10].

Variceal stigmata  Previous section Next section

Red color signs, which include cherry-red spots and red wale markings, are also associated with more advanced grade of varices and higher risk of hemorrhage (Fig. 1). These signs are thought to represent focal weakness or 'blowouts' in the variceal wall. Fibrin clots or 'white nipple sign' are occasionally seen over the variceal columns which have recently bled (Fig. 2).

Risk of bleeding  Previous section Next section

Beside gross appearance of varices, patients with decompensated cirrhosis would definitely fare worse than those with compensated liver function. Alcoholic hepatitis and portal vein thrombosis are other poor prognostic indicators. The risk of bleeding from varices is correlated to the Child–Pugh's score, not just because of more severe portal hypertension, but also because it is related to other factors such as nutritional deficiency, coagulopathy, and increased fibrinolysis in advanced liver disease. Recently, an association between bacterial infection and failure to control bleeding has been observed and a causal relationship has been implicated [11].

Meta-analysis of prophylactic antibiotics in variceal bleeding in cirrhotics shows reduced morbidity and mortality when infection is brought under control [12]. A diurnal periodicity of variceal bleeding has also been observed. Bleeding episodes occur more frequently in the early mornings and late evenings [13], probably as a result of hyperdynamic blood flow in the portal system after meals.

Prognostic indices  Previous section Next section

Several prognostic indices have been developed to predict which patients with esophageal varices are likely to bleed. Some of them are based on clinical parameters [14,15], others are combined with endoscopic features [8,16], and the rest use a combination of endoscopic features, biochemical parameters, and echo-Doppler ultrasound findings [17]. The most widely used index is still the North Italian Endoscopic Club index (NIEC index) [8].

This index is based on (1) severity of liver disease (Child–Pugh class), (2) size of varices, and (3) presence of red markings on the varices (Fig. 3). Base on this index, cirrhotic patients have been classified into six risk classes, each with a prediction rate of bleeding (Fig. 4). The NIEC index has been prospectively validated on independent series. Yet, with the best prognostic index, one could only predict less than 40% of variceal bleeding. Obviously, some factors predisposing to variceal bleeding remain to be discovered.

Rebleeding  Previous section Next section

Most variceal bleeding temporarily stops by the time the patient arrives at the hospital. Without proper treatment, however, recurrent bleeding occurs in 30–40% within the next 2–3 days, and up to 60% within 1 week [18,19]. The risk of recurrent bleeding is presumably related to changes in hemodynamics of the portal system, including an increase in portocollateral resistance after hypotension, increased splanchnic blood flow stimulated by blood in the gut, and an increase in portal venous pressure as a result of overzealous volume expansion during resuscitation. Two cohort studies have showed that after the index bleeding, mortality is highest in the first 5 days and returns to baseline levels by 3–4 months [18,19]. This is the critical time window for optimal treatment to improve survival of variceal bleeders.

Top of page Endoscopy: general  Previous section Next section

The objectives of endoscopy in gastrointestinal bleeding are to:

  • identify the source of bleeding;
  • assess the risk of recurrent hemorrhage;
  • attempt to control the bleeding and prevent recurrent hemorrhage.

It is important to identify the source of bleeding before implementing therapy. About one-third of patients with a known history of portal hypertension actually bleed from non-variceal sources such as peptic ulcers, portal hypertensive gastropathy, and Mallory–Weiss tear. In patients with decompensated liver disease, light sedation is preferred to general anesthesia.

The judicious use of endotracheal intubation is recommended during emergency endoscopy to prevent aspiration of blood. A therapeutic endoscope with a working channel of 3.2 mm would allow for adequate suction. In the presence of a large quantity of blood and clots in the stomach obscuring the view, a large 6 mm-channel endoscope could be used. In cases of blood or food material sticking to the mucosa, a water-pik system would provide a forceful water jet for washing.

Occasionally, an over-tube in the stomach will be needed to carry out proper gastric lavage. Evacuating blood from the stomach not only allows for better vision, but also helps in reducing the subsequent risk of hepatic encephalopathy in cirrhotic patients with liver dysfunction.

Top of page Endoscopic treatments  Previous section Next section

Several methods have been developed and used in the management of esophageal and gastric varices. The field continues to evolve, focusing on methods which are easy to use and effective, and which have minimal short- and long-term adverse effects.

Endoscopic injection sclerotherapy (EST)  Previous section Next section

More than half a century after it was introduced by Crafoord and Frenckner [20], EST remains the primary treatment for bleeding esophagogastric varices in many parts of the world. It is used both in the control of acute bleeding and in elective obliteration of varices. Ironically, the mechanism of action of EST is not entirely clear despite its popularity. The hemostatic effect is unlikely to be due to acute venous thrombosis induced by sclerosants. It has been shown that blood flow in the varices is much faster than that in peripheral varicosities.

Furthermore, when sclerosants are injected around the varices, acute hemostasis can still be achieved in the same rate [21]. Autopsy studies indicate that venous thrombosis, mucosal ulceration and acute inflammatory reactions can be found in the injection site as early as 2 days after sclerotherapy [22]. A multitude of actions might be operating in controlling bleeding by EST.

EST technique  Previous section Next section

Endoscopists vary in their precise methods for EST. Differences include the choice of sclerosants (type, concentration, single or in combination), number of treatment sessions, time interval between sessions, site and volume of injections, and the use of an over-tube. Injections may be directed into the veins (intravariceal injection) or into the esophageal wall adjacent to the varices (paravariceal injection), but most endoscopists favor the former technique.

In practice, however, a combination of intravariceal and paravariceal injections are given irrespective of the target chosen by endoscopists. Most endoscopists use a free-hand method injecting sclerosant to the source of bleeding or variceal column that shows a fibrin clot. After that, systematic injections to each variceal column should be given, starting from the esophagogastric junction and up until it reaches mid esophagus.

Sclerosants  Previous section Next section

Many sclerosing agents have been used but there have been few direct comparisons between them. Sclerosants are either chemical irritants such as fatty acids (e.g. sodium morrhuate, ethanolamine oleate, polidocanol) or dehydrating agents (e.g. sodium tetradecyl sulfate, ethanol, hypertonic glucose, and phenol). Most endoscopists accept that they have similar hemostatic effects in controlling variceal hemorrhage. The choice remains largely a personal preference and depends on sclerosant availability in different countries.

Depending on the size of the varix, 1–2 ml aliquots are injected into each column at esophagogastric junction. A total volume of 20 ml can be injected at each session. Sodium tetradecyl sulfate, especially used in high concentrations, may be associated with more severe esophageal ulceration and strictures compared with polidocanol or ethanolamine oleate. Bleeding may be provoked by needle pricking into the vascular channels of variceal columns. It is advisable to advance the endoscope into the stomach using the body of the endoscope to compress on the bleeding spots. Bleeding usually stops within 1–2 min. Afterwards more injections can be given.

Accessory devices  Previous section Next section

Many accessories have been developed for use with flexible endoscopes, e.g. flexible over-tubes (Kitano tube) and balloon catheters, to provide variceal compression during EST. Because of the additional discomfort to patients when using these devices and the high success of free-hand injection, they are seldom used nowadays.

Post-EST care  Previous section Next section

If there is no evidence of further bleeding, feeding can be resumed after several hours of observation. Recent studies support the use of prophylactic antibiotics to prevent bacteremia and associated peritonitis after EST [12,13]. Patients may be given sucralfate or acid suppressants after receiving EST to prevent extensive esophageal ulceration. Further injection is then continued at regular intervals until all varices are obliterated. The appropriate interval for follow-up EST after control of the initial hemorrhage remains somewhat arbitrary. Most centres adopt a weekly or biweekly treatment schedule. EST should be performed according to the patient tolerance, response to therapy, and development of ulcers or other complications.

EST—proof of value?  Previous section Next section

Although EST has been used as the standard treatment for decades, few data compare this treatment vs. sham to support its efficacy. The best evidence for the value of EST comes only recently from the Veteran Affairs Cooperative Variceal Sclerotherapy Group [23]. In this study, EST stopped hemorrhage from actively bleeding esophageal varices more effectively than sham EST with medical therapy (91% vs. 60%), and significantly improved survival (75% vs. 51%). EST was compared with medical treatment with or without balloon tamponade in four other trials. Barsoum et al. randomized 100 patients and found that EST is superior to balloon tamponade in reducing both in-hospital rebleeding and death [24].

In the Copenhagen Esophageal Varices Sclerotherapy Project, no significant difference in the initial control of hemorrhage was reported between EST and balloon tamponade [25]. Rebleeding within the first 40 days was similar in both treatment groups. After 40 days, a significant reduction in rebleeding associated with EST was noted (15% vs. 31%). The beneficial effect of EST was apparent in the long-term following of patients after eradication of varices. Paquet et al. [26] and Moreto et al. [27] recruited smaller numbers of patients and reported favorable improvement in control of bleeding with EST. In summary, EST is superior to balloon tamponade in the acute control of bleeding and prevention of recurrent hemorrhage from esophageal varices.

Endoscopic variceal ligation (EVL)  Previous section Next section

Endoscopic variceal ligation was first introduced by Stiegmann and Goff in 1986 [28,29]. The basic principle of variceal banding involves placement of elastic O-ring ligatures, causing strangulation of the varix. The varix is sucked into the ligation chamber until it produces a red-out appearance. The trip wire is pulled to retract the inner cylinder and release the O ring. A strong suction is required and complete red-out of the endoscopic view is mandatory before firing the rubber band. Treatment should begin with ligation of most distal variceal columns in the esophagus just above the esophagogastric junction.

In the treatment of actively bleeding varices or varices with stigmata of hemorrhage, the bleeding point should be handled first. In situations where the exact bleeding point cannot be seen, it is recommended that the scope be first passed beyond the gastroesophageal junction and worked proximally towards the lower esophagus. Because only a single band can be fired at one time in the first-generation banding device, an over-tube across the cricopharyngeus sphincter is required to facilitate multiple passages of endoscope.

The use of an over-tube can lead to serious injury. Pinching of esophageal wall in the gap between the over-tube and the endoscope may lead to severe esophageal laceration and perforation. The original banding device also created a tunnel view of the intestinal lumen limiting thorough examination prior to therapy. A number of modifications have since been made.

Multi-fire devices  Previous section Next section

A number of multi-fire band ligating devices are now available, obviating the need of an over-tube. The Speedband® (Microvasive) and the Six-shooters® (Wilson-Cook) allow applications of five and six rubber bands, respectively (Fig. 5). The suction drum is now made of transparent plastics to improve the field of vision (Fig. 6). These multi-fire banding devices have largely replaced the single-fire banding device for convenience and safety. They shorten the duration in each treatment session and reduce patient discomfort [30,31]. After a few sessions of EVL, varices become smaller and scarring of the esophageal wall starts to develop. Further banding may become difficult.

Recurrence  Previous section Next section

The other potential problem with EVL is early recurrence of varices. Many studies have reported early recurrence of esophageal varices within 6–12 months after obliteration. EVL obliterates varices by pinching on the mucosa and submucosa of the esophageal wall. The periesophageal varices and perforating veins, which are the determinant factor for recurrence, are not occluded by EVL. Because of these problems, a combined treatment of EVL and EST has been proposed (see below).

Comparing EST and EVL  Previous section Next section

At least 11 studies have compared EVL with EST [32–42] (Fig. 7). Most studies reported that EVL is a safer and quicker technique with fewer episodes of rebleeding and complications. The early meta-analysis by Laine and Cook demonstrated reduction in rebleeding rate (odds ratio 0.52, 95% CI 0.37–0.74), overall mortality (odds ratio 0.67, 95% CI 0.46–0.98), and mortality caused by rebleeding (odds ratio 0.49, 95% CI 0.24–0.996) after EVL as compared to EST [43]. The number of EVL sessions required to achieve variceal obliteration was also lower. The frequency of esophageal strictures was less with EVL.

Although attractive because of a faster eradication rate and fewer complications, EVL is associated with a higher variceal recurrence. The difference in variceal recurrence can be explained by the fact that the ulcers caused by banding are usually superficial and induce very limited scarring. Since the high portal pressure is not affected by endoscopic treatment and the perforating veins are not obliterated by EVL, the residual esophageal varices reappear over a period of months or even weeks. In almost all studies comparing the long-term effects of EST vs. EVL, recurrence of esophageal varices were found more frequently in the EVL-treated patients (30–48%) compared to the EST-treated patients (8–30%) (Fig. 7).

On the contrary, rebleeding from gastric varices may be more common among those treated by EST than by EVL (37% vs. 8%). The overall survival rates are similar in both treatment modalities and it is determined by hepatic reserve rather than by the method of endoscopic hemostasis. A comparison between EST and EVL is summarized in Fig. 8.

Cyanoacrylate (Histoacryl®) injection  Previous section Next section

Endoscopic injection of the varices with N-butyl-2-cyanoacrylate (Histoacryl®) was first introduced by Soehendra in 1995 [44]. The tissue adhesive coagulates almost instantaneously when in contact with blood. In order to avoid blockage of the working channel of the endoscope and to allow fluoroscopic monitoring of the injection, cyanoacrylate is mixed with radiological contrast (lipoidol) prior to injection. Before the injection, the working channel of the endoscope and the injector probe are flushed with 1–2 ml of lipoidol to prevent channel blockage.

A mixture of 0.5 ml cyanoacrylate and 0.7 ml lipoidol is injected under fluoroscopic control. A serpentine structure demonstrated on fluoroscopy confirms successful intravariceal injection (Fig. 9). The injected submucosal vessels hardened and bleeding ceased (Fig. 10). The needle must be thoroughly rinsed with distilled water before retracting into the working channel. Suction should be prohibited at this time to avoid adhesive clogging the suction channel of the endoscope. A cast will slough off from the injection site within 1–2 weeks leaving an ulcer.

Cyanoacrylate is very effective in controlling actively spurting variceal hemorrhage. Non-randomized studies have shown that it is superior to other sclerosants in acute hemostasis [45,46]. Cyanoacrylate also offers the best results in the treatment of gastric varices [47]. In patients with hepatocellular carcinoma complicated with variceal bleeding, a single injection of cyanoacrylate has been shown to be as effective as weekly injection of sodium tetradecyl sulfate [48].

Complications of EST and EVL  Previous section Next section

Both EST and EVL are associated with certain procedure-related complications. Almost all patients experience chest pain and transient dysphagia, and many have low-grade fever after EST. These adverse events are likely to be related to chemical and mechanical irritation producing muscle spasm and mucosal ulceration of the esophagus. They usually resolve spontaneously. More serious complications, e.g. recurrent bleeding from esophageal ulcer, perforation, and mediastinitis, develop in up to 20% of patients after EST. Aspiration pneumonia is not uncommon in agitated patients receiving EST. Bacteremia and bacterial peritonitis are not uncommon in both EST and EVL.

The only serious complication associated with EVL is related to the use of the over-tube. Severe esophageal ulcerations heal with extensive fibrosis, and stricture of esophagus occurs only with EST. Portal vein thrombosis, brain abscess, spinal cord paralysis, and pericarditis have been reported. Organ infarction and multiple septic emboli have been reported, associated with the use of cyanoacrylate injection [49,50]. Acid-suppressing agents and sucralfate have been used to minimize the effect of acid reflux and to accelerate ulcer healing. Prophylactic antibiotics have been shown to reduce bacteremia and bacterial peritonitis.

Detachable mini-snare  Previous section Next section

The detachable mini-snare was initially designed for endoscopic resection of elevated mucosal lesion to minimize the risk of bleeding. The snare has a maximum diameter of 4 cm when fully opened. Yoshida first used the detachable snare for the ligation of gastric varices and reported excellent results [51]. Yet the technique has not gained popularity as gastric varices are usually quite big and positioning of the snare is often difficult. With modification of the design, the detachable snare can now be used for the treatment of esophageal varices [52]. This method of variceal ligation has the advantages of (1) obviating the use of an over-tube, (2) producing a clear endoscopic image, and (3) offering an unlimited number of ligations.

Technique  Previous section Next section

A transparent ligation chamber with a rim on the inside is fitted onto the tip of an endoscope. The detachable mini-snare is inserted into the working channel of the endoscope until it opens at the rim of the ligation chamber. The endoscope is positioned to obtain an en face view of a variceal column. The varix is then sucked into the ligation chamber and the mini-snare manoeuvred to surround the varix. Ligation of the varices is performed by sliding the stopper forward (Fig. 11). When the loop is tightened around the base of the varix, suction can be released and the mini-snare detached from the snare. The ligated portion of the varix appears as a 'polyp' with a short string attached to the base (Fig. 12). Additional ligations are carried out by reloading the mini-snare with the endoscope remaining in the esophagus.

Results  Previous section Next section

A recent prospective randomized study showed that mini-snares performed equally well when compared to Speedband®, a multiple variceal ligator [53]. However, the use of detachable snares for variceal ligation requires experienced endoscopy assistance and the procedure time is longer than for the preloaded multiple banding devices. It may not be the best option during the active phase of bleeding, especially when skilled technicians are unavailable.

Top of page Treatment of ACUTE variceal hemorrhage  Previous section Next section

In patients with acute variceal bleeding, the goal of treatment is to restore hemodynamic stability, stop hemorrhage, prevent complications, including early rebleeding, and decrease mortality. Over the last few decades, pharmacological therapy, endoscopic treatment, surgical devascularization or bypass, and radiological shunting have been developed for the optimal treatment of acute variceal bleeding. A combination of these therapies, in conjunction with supportive therapy and correction of coagulopathy, probably achieves the best results in the management of this deadly complication of portal hypertension.

Pharmacological treatments  Previous section Next section

Vasopressin was the first vasoactive agent used in the control of acute variceal bleeding. While most studies confirmed that vasopressin is effective in the control of acute bleeding, its use has been limited by the frequent side-effects due to non-selective vasoconstriction. Unlike vasopressin, somatostatin and its analogs have selective vasoconstrictive activity in the splanchnic circulation, thus reducing the risk of systemic side-effects. Although the mechanism of action is not entirely clear, somatostatin and its analogs have been shown to be able to reduce portal pressure and blood flow in collaterals [54,55], leading to control of variceal hemorrhage.

Four trials compared somatostatin [56–59] and three compared octreotide against endoscopic sclerotherapy in the treatment of acute bleeding esophageal varices [60–62]. All studies showed similar rates of initial control of bleeding, recurrent bleeding, and death with pharmacological or endoscopic control of acute variceal bleeding. In a recent meta-analysis combining data collected from 13 randomized trials, octreotide has been shown to improve control of esophageal variceal hemorrhage compared to alternative therapies. Its effect is comparable to immediate EST but with fewer major complications than vasopressin/terlipressin [63]. Vasoactive agents provide an effective stop-gap treatment when endoscopic therapy is not readily available.

Combined endoscopic and pharmacological therapy  Previous section Next section

Since both endoscopic therapy and vasoactive drugs are effective in the acute control or prevention of recurrent bleeding in esophageal varices, it would be logical to combine the two treatment modalities. The optimal approach is to administer vasoactive drugs at the earliest possible time for patients suspected to have variceal bleeding. Levacher et al. used terlipressin plus nitroglycerin started before hospitalization [64]. The medication was given by the emergency medical team at patients' homes before they were brought to hospital. Control of variceal bleeding was significantly improved. When somatostatin and vapreotide were given prior to EST, variceal bleeding was controlled before endoscopic therapy [65,66].

Endoscopic therapy becomes easier as the endoscopist is working in a 'dry field'. Recurrent bleeding after endoscopic therapy can therefore be reduced. The lowering of portal venous pressure by early administration of vasoactive drugs thus holds the key to success of subsequent endoscopic control of variceal bleeding. In the study using terlipressin [64], mortality due to bleeding in the first 2 weeks was reduced in the group who received terlipressin prior to endoscopic treatment. Similarly, a vasoactive agent seems to produce an adjunctive effect in combination with EVL in the treatment of acute variceal bleeding [67]. The combined endoscopic and pharmacological therapy leads to less rebleeding, thus requiring less balloon tamponade and retreatment with endoscopy. However, no improvement on mortality was demonstrated, which appeared to be related primarily to severity of hepatic decompensation.

Surgery  Previous section Next section

Occasionally, hemostasis fails despite the combination of endoscopic and pharmacological therapy. Shunting of the hypertensive portal venous system to the normotensive systemic venous circulation would be inevitable. Surgical treatments for variceal bleeding include direct esophageal devascularization of the lower esophagus and the proximal stomach as well as a variety of surgical shunting procedures. Simple surgical devascularization with esophageal transaction is an effective means of controlling acute bleeding but long-term results are poor. Shunt operations, including selective and non-selective shunts that divert all or part of portal blood flow into the inferior vena cava, offer an effective control of bleeding but also lead to severe hepatic encephalopathy.

Tipss  Previous section Next section

In the last decade, transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic stent shunt (TIPSS) has been developed as a radiological portocaval shunt. It has the advantage of avoiding a major operation and the risk of general anesthesia in patients with poor hepatic reserve and hemodynamic instability. Despite high success in controlling acute hemorrhage, TIPSS has failed to demonstrate improvement in mortality. One of the major problems with TIPSS is the development of hepatic encephalopathy, which should be expected in any shunting procedure.

A number of prognostic indicators after TIPSS have been under investigation but none has high success in predicting outcome. This includes a poor APACHE score, presence of hyponatremia and Child C liver disease, hepatic encephalopathy before TIPSS, presence of ascites, and serum albumin. TIPSS should not be used as a routine form of therapy for variceal bleeding, yet it is highly efficacious as a rescue therapy should endoscopic therapy fail (Fig. 13). TIPSS should be reserved for the subset of patients who continue to bleed or develop recurrent bleeding after endoscopic therapy.

Comparing TIPSS with endoscopic treatments  Previous section Next section

TIPSS has been compared with endoscopic therapy as therapy for variceal bleeding in 11 studies involving 811 patients. Endoscopic treatments in these trials were: EST in 5 studies [68–72], EVL in 3 studies [73–75], and EST or EVL plus propranolol in 3 studies [76–78]. In a meta-analysis pooling data from the above studies, variceal rebleeding was significantly more frequent with endoscopic therapies (47%) compared with TIPSS (19%) (OR, 3.8; 95% CI, 2.8–5.2) [79).

Consensus approach to acute bleeding  Previous section Next section

Based on existing evidence, a clinical algorithm is suggested below (Fig 14). During initial resuscitation with fluid and blood replacement, cirrhotic patients with upper gastrointestinal bleeding should be given intravenous injection/infusion of vasoactive agents. Emergency endoscopy should be arranged if the patient remains hemodynamically unstable. After endoscopic confirmation of the source of bleeding, EVL and/or injection EST should be offered immediately. Vasoactive agents should be continued for 5 days to prevent early rebleeding and prophylactic antibiotics are also recommended. When initial hemostasis is achieved, the patient can be scheduled for an endoscopic obliteration program with weekly or biweekly banding or sclerotherapy until all varices are obliterated.

Patients who fail to respond to endoscopic therapy or suffer from recurrent bleeding during the acute phase should be offered balloon tamponade before a second session of therapeutic endoscopy. Vasoactive therapy should be continued. If secure hemostasis still cannot be achieved, TIPSS or surgical shunting (when TIPSS is not available or not feasible) offers the best salvage therapy. Patients undergoing TIPSS or shunt surgery should be closely monitored for shunt patency and mental status. Liver transplantation would be the last resort, when all treatment options have failed.

Combined endoscopic therapies vs. single therapy  Previous section Next section

Combination of EVL and EST has been proposed to produce synergistic effects in initial hemostasis and long-term therapy for esophageal varices. The two endoscopic therapies work on different mechanisms and may produce additive effects. However, the literature has produced conflicting results as to the therapeutic effect of combined endoscopic therapy. Some studies have combined EVL and EST during the same session (synchronous treatment). Others use the two therapies sequentially (metachronous treatment).

Synchronous combinations  Previous section Next section

Among those using a synchronous approach, some injected adjacent to a ligated varix, while others injected into the adjacent mucosa or ligate on the injected varix. While achieving a marginally higher variceal eradication rate, Laine et al. reported that synchronous treatment is associated with a higher complication rate and required a higher number of sessions with the combination therapy compared with EVL alone [80]. The rebleeding rate and mortality were similar to monotherapy. Saeed et al. reported that combined treatment had not achieved any superiority to EVL alone as the former required more treatment sessions, associated with higher complication rates and higher mortality [81]. Umehara et al. also noticed that the combined approach had resulted in more complications but a significantly lower rate of recurrence of varices [82].

Hou described the so-called 'sandwich' technique using a pneumoactive ligation device and demonstrated a marginal benefit of combined treatment in reducing variceal recurrence [83]. When EST is compared against combination therapy, combination therapy requires fewer treatment sessions and produces fewer complications than EST alone [84,85]. Thus patients undergoing synchronous endoscopic therapy may fare worse than those receiving EVL alone but probably do better those receiving EST alone.

Metachronous combinations  Previous section Next section

On the other hand, there might be an advantage to perform metachronous endoscopic therapy. Bhargava et al. reported higher eradication and lower rebleeding with combination therapy [86]. Lo et al. reported similar treatment sessions and eradication rate for both treatments. However, mortality, rebleeding, and variceal recurrence were lower with combination therapy than with EVL alone [87]. Cheng confirmed that recurrence of varices is more common in patients receiving single endoscopic therapy [88]. Garg et al. compared EST with combination therapy. Again eradication rate and number of treatment sessions were similar, but complications and rebleeding rate were higher with EST alone [89].

Masumoto et al. conducted a study comparing EVL, EST, and EVL followed by EST. The number of patients in each study arm was small. Their study indicated that combined endoscopic therapy is superior to either EST or EVL alone, requiring fewer treatment sessions and causing fewer complications. Recurrence of varices was highest among those who received EVL alone [90]. Based on existing data from the literature, the initial hemostasis of EVL is comparable to combined therapy. However, combining EST with EVL may reduce risk of recurrence varices and rebleeding at a cost of a higher complication rate.

Top of page Prophylactic treatment of esophageal varices  Previous section Next section

Detection and surveillance  Previous section Next section

All patients with confirmed diagnosis of portal hypertension, with or without cirrhosis, should receive endoscopic screening for varices. Based on studies of natural history of esophageal varices, patients with no varices need to have follow-up endoscopy every 3–4 years. Patients with esophageal varices should be assessed by a predictive scoring system, e.g. NIEC score. Low-risk patients should be re-examined yearly for progression of esophageal varices. Moderate- to high-risk patients should be offered prophylactic therapy. Although beta-blocker treatment remains the mainstay for prophylaxis against variceal bleeding, only one-third of patients will respond to this medication and it is not tolerated by all.

Endoscopic prophylaxis  Previous section Next section

There has long been controversy over the role of endoscopic treatment in primary prophylaxis against first bleed in selected high-risk patients. In the 1980s, prophylactic EST was tested as a preventative for variceal bleeding. Three initial controlled trials reported that prophylactic EST significantly reduces the risk of first variceal bleeding and improves survival [91–93]. However, in subsequent trials, prophylactic EST has not shown survival benefit. EST may provoke bleeding. Indeed, in two American studies, the mortality was higher in the EST group than the control group [94,95]. While EST may produce more harm than good to patients with cirrhosis, EVL has been shown to be safer and associated with fewer procedure-related complications.

Three trials [96–98] compared endoscopic EVL against no treatment and two compared it against propranolol therapy in the prevention of variceal bleeding [99,100] (Fig. 14). The results of these studies showed a significant decrease in the risk of bleeding and the mortality was also significantly reduced in two studies. In a recently published meta-analysis based on four trials recruiting 283 patients, it has been estimated that, compared to no treatment, EVL reduces the risk of variceal bleeding by 64% and mortality by 45% [101].

When compared to beta-blocker, EVL reduces the risk of variceal bleeding by 52% but fails to reduce mortality. With these promising results, prophylactic EVL could be considered for selected patients with high risk of variceal bleeding who cannot tolerate pharmacological prophylaxis. A clinical algorithm in the management of varices without bleeding is shown in Fig. 16.

Top of page Gastric varices  Previous section Next section

Compared to esophageal varices, the natural history of, and optimal treatment for, gastric varices are less clear. Gastric varices tend to bleed less frequently than esophageal varices but bleeding tends to be more severe. Mortality in those who bled from gastric varices is substantial.

According to Sarin, gastric varices can be categorized into two groups according to their locations in the stomach and relationship with esophageal varices: (1) gastroesophageal varices (GOVs), found associated with esophageal varices, and (2) isolated gastric varices (IGV), found independently of esophageal varices [102]. Each of the subtypes can be further classified into Type 1 and 2 based on their locations in the stomach (Fig. 16).

Type 1 GOVs are continuous with esophageal varices, extending 2–5 cm beyond the gastroesophageal junction along the lesser curvature of the stomach, while Type 2 GOVs extend into the fundus of stomach. Type 1 IGV refer to isolated fundal gastric varices and Type 2 refers to isolated 'ectopic' varices occurring in the distal portion of the stomach, including the duodenum. This classification of gastric varices has prognostic implications and may be helpful in management planning. Type 1 GOVs are the commonest type, accounting for 75% of cases. Their rate of bleeding is only 11.8%. Their treatment is identical to that of esophageal varices and they are usually responsive to endoscopic therapy.

Type 2 GOVs tend to bleed more frequently (55%). IGV1 has the highest rate of bleeding at 78% and carries substantial mortality. EST has been described in the treatment of bleeding gastric varices with an overall initial control of 80% [103,104]. In addition, rebleeding after endoscopic sclerotherapy for bleeding gastric varices is common, especially in IGV1. EVL is less effective in bleeding gastric varices. Deployment of bands can be difficult with the endoscope in a retroflexed position. Band retention is a problem and a slipped band may precipitate early rebleeding. Histoacryl injection is the most widely accepted therapy for gastric varices.

In a non-randomized series, Oho et al. compared injections using cyanoacrylate to ethanolamine in 53 patients [35]. Their study showed that the rate of initial control of bleeding is significantly higher in patients treated with cyanoacrylate. In-hospital mortality was significantly higher in the ethanolamine-treated group. In a recent study comparing endoscopic banding ligation with cyanoacrylate injection, 60 patients with gastric varices were randomized to receive the two treatments [105].

Compared to EVL, cyanoacrylate injection is found to have better initial hemostasis and less recurrent bleeding. Blood transfusion is less and mortality is improved with cyanoacrylate injection of gastric varices. In general, the lower rate of hemostasis and higher rate of recurrent bleeding in gastric varices with endoscopic treatment would imply that alternate therapies such as surgery or TIPSS are more often needed.

Top of page Endoscopic ultrasonography in variceal hemorrhage  Previous section Next section

Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) has been applied to patients with variceal hemorrhage since 1990 [106]. Using EUS, a large part of the portal venous system can be visualized, including the portal vein, splenic vein, superior mesenteric vein, and the azygos vein. However, when used in detecting esophageal varices, EUS was found to be inferior to conventional upper endoscopy [107,108]. This was mainly due to the large-bore echoendoscope of the first generation, and the use of water-filled balloons, which compress variceal columns.

With the improvement in technology, and the development of catheter probes using higher ultrasound frequency [109,110], it is also found that EUS can detect vascular channels both inside and outside the esophageal lumen. EUS can also be used to map vessels in the adjacent tissues outside the esophageal wall (periesophageal varices), and collateral veins in the mediastinum running longitudinally alone with the esophagus (paraesophageal varice), as well as the perforators that connect the submucosal and peripheral vascular channels [111,112] (Fig. 17).

Paraesophageal varices and perforating veins are reported in around 80% of patients with esophageal varices, and their presence has been associated with poor response to endoscopic therapy and early recurrence of varices [113,114].

It has also been suggested that patients undergoing EVL are more likely to have multiple paraesophageal varices of considerable size compared to those who received EST [115,116]. EUS-guided sclerotherapy using color Doppler has been attempted to improve results of EST [117]. It has been suggested that after endoscopic therapy has achieved obliteration of submucosal varices, EUS examination of the lower esophagus is warranted to identify those who had perforating veins and peri-/paraesophageal varices. Small volume injections of sclerosants may be given to seal these perforators to prevent early recurrence of varices and rebleeding, followed by close monitoring of these patients. The development of color Doppler EUS has also allowed the study of blood flow hemodynamics in the portal venous system. Cirrhotic patients are found to have an enlarged azygos vein and thoracic ducts [118].

Azygos vein blood flow has been found to be reduced after endoscopic therapy [119]. The use of azygos blood flow measurement in the clinical management of variceal hemorrhage remains to be defined.

EUS and gastric varices  Previous section Next section

Unlike esophageal varices, EUS has been found to be very useful in detecting gastric varices as it can easily distinguish vascular structure from other submucosal lesions in the gastric fundus (Fig. 17) [107,108]. EUS is also a useful tool in monitoring the effects of EST as it confirms obliteration of vascular channel in the submucosa of the stomach. It has been reported that cyanoacrylate injection monitored by EUS reduces recurrence of gastric varices [120].

Top of page Outstanding issues and future trends  Previous section Next section

It is still impossible to predict rebleeding after endoscopic therapy. The endoscopic appearance of the varices and clinical parameters have not been able to accurately identify high-risk patients. Future research should be directed to non-invasive measurement of blood flow and pressure of varices using EUS and Doppler ultrasound to monitor therapy of esophageal and gastric varices. An endoscope which could serve both diagnostic (including detection of blood flow) and therapeutic purposes is very much needed.

Top of page References  Previous section

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113 Leung, VKS, Sung, JJY & Ahuja, A et al. Large para-esophageal varices on endosonography predicts recurrent oesophageal sclerotherapy for oesophageal varices. Gastroenterology 1997; 112: 1811. PubMed

114 Lo, GH, Lai, KH & Cheng, JS et al. Prevalence of paraesophageal varices and gastric varices in patients achieving variceal obliteration by banding ligation and by injection sclerotherapy. Gastrointest Endosc 1999; 49: 428–36. PubMed

115 Irisawa, A, Saito, A & Obara, K et al. Endoscopic recurrence of esophageal varices is associated with the specific EUS abnormalities: severe peri-esophageal collateral veins and large perforating veins. Gastrointest Endosc 2001; 53: 77–84. PubMed CrossRef

116 Suzuki, T, Matsutani, S & Umebara, K et al. EUS changes predictive for recurrence of esophageal varices in patients treated by combined endoscopic ligation and sclerotherapy. Gastrointest Endosc 2000; 52: 611–17. PubMed CrossRef

117 Lahoti, S, Catalano, MF & Alcocer, E et al. Obliteration of esophageal varices using EUS-guided sclerotherapy with color Doppler. Gastrointest Endosc 2000; 53: 331–3.

118 Lee, YT, Sung, JJY & Yung, MY et al. The use of color Doppler EUS in assessing azygos blood flow for patients with portal hypertension. Gastrointest Endosc 1999; 50: 47–52. PubMed

119 Kassem, AM, Salama, ZA & Zakaria, MS et al. Endoscopic ultrasonographic study of the azygos vein before and after endoscopic obliteration of esophagogastric varices by injection sclerotherapy. Endoscopy 2000; 32: 630–4. PubMed CrossRef

120 Lee, YT, Chan, FKL & Ng, EKW et al. Endosonography guided injection of cyanoacrylate for bleeding gastric varices. Gastrointest Endosc 2000; 52: 168–74. PubMed

Copyright © Blackwell Publishing, 2005

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Diagnostic upper endoscopy
  Normal esophagus
   Hiatus and Z-line
   Glycogenic acanthosis
   GEJ variants
  Abnormal esophagus
   Erythematous areas and erosions
   Hiatal hernia
Endoscopy in esophagitis
  Endoscopic staging of esophagitis
   Savary–Miller classification
   Hetzel–Dent classification
   MUSE classification
   Los Angeles classification
  Other lesions associated with GERD
   Schatzki's ring
   Mallory–Weiss tear
  Postoperative changes after fundoplication
  Endoscopic biopsy
  Chromoendoscopy in GERD
Endoscopic management of esophageal strictures
  Esophageal dilation
   Principles of esophageal dilation
   Mechanical dilation
   Pneumatic (balloon) dilation
   Techniques of dilation
   Dilation of distal esophageal (Schatzki's) rings
  Concomitant medical therapy for strictures
  Refractory strictures
   Intralesional injection of corticosteroids
   Other endoscopic methods for strictures
  Complications of esophageal stricture dilation
Endoscopic therapies for GERD
  Radiofrequency energy delivery (Stretta®)
   Stretta® technique
   Mechanisms of action
  Endoscopic implantation of bulking agents
   Inert polymer microspheres
   Expandable hydrogel prosthesis (Gatekeeper™)
  Endoscopic plication systems
   Endoluminal gastric plication (ELGP)
   Boston Scientific device
Outstanding issues and future trends
  Barrett's esophagus
  Esophageal cancer
Barrett's esophagus
  Definition of Barrett's esophagus
   Long-segment Barrett's esophagus (LSBE)
   Short-segment BE (SSBE)
   Ultra-short BE (SSBE)
  Risk factors for Barrett's esophagus
   Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
   H.pylori and GERD
   Age, sex, and race
   Other risk factors
  Epidemiology of Barrett's esophagus
  Natural history of Barrett's esophagus
  Pathogenesis of Barrett's esophagus
   Helicobacter pylori
  Novel diagnostic techniques for Barrett's esophagus
   Magnification/high-resolution endoscopy
   Other investigational techniques
   Endoscopic ultrasonography (EUS)
   Light induced fluorescence (LIF)
   Optical coherence tomography (OCT)
   Reflectance and elastic light scattering spectroscopy
   Confocal microscopy
   Raman spectroscopy (RS)
  Screening for Barrett's esophagus
   Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD)
  Diagnosis of Barrett's esophagus
  Management of Barrett's esophagus
   Utility of surveillance
   Chemoprevention of Barrett's esopahgus
   Medical reduction of acid load
   Endoscopic therapy for Barrett's esophagus
   Thermal ablation: Monopolar/bipolar/heater probe electrocoagulation
   Photodynamic therapy (PDT)
   Endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR)
   Surgery for Barrett's esophagus
  Barrett's esophagus conclusion
Esophageal cancer
  Risk factors for esophageal cancer
  Epidemiology of esophageal cancer
  Natural history of esophageal cancer
  Diagnosis of esophageal cancer
   Clinical features
   Laboratory data
  Management of esophageal cancer
   Ablative techniques
   Endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR)
   Endoscopic dilation
   Injection therapy (EIT)
   Esophageal endoprosthesis (EE)
   Surgery for esophageal cancer
   Radiation therapy for esphageal cancer
   Chemotherapy for esophageal cancer
  Esophageal cancer conclusion
  Outstanding issue and future trends
  Diagnostic methods
   Endoscopy, when and where?
   Lavage before endoscopy?
   Ulcer stigmata
   Removing clots?
Endoscopic hemostasis
  Available techniques
  Injection hemostasis
  Thermal methods
  Combination methods
Care after bleeding
  Acid suppression
  Aspirin and NSAIDs
  Early rebleeding
  Predictors of rebleeding
   Ulcer stigmata
  Prevention of rebleeding
  Treatment of rebleeding
  Late rebleeding
   NSAIDs and aspirin
   Acid suppression
Non-ulcer bleeding
Issues and future trends
  New suturing devices, clips, and bands
  Visualization (scope size)
  Airway protection/anesthesia
National history of variceal bleeding
  Mechanism of bleeding
   Variceal stigmata
  Risk of bleeding
  Prognostic indices
Endoscopy: general
Endoscopic treatments
  Endoscopic injection sclerotherapy (EST)
  EST technique
   Accessory devices
   Post-EST care
   EST—proof of value?
  Endoscopic variceal ligation (EVL)
   Multi-fire devices
  Comparing EST and EVL
   Cyanoacrylate (Histoacryl®) injection
  Complications of EST and EVL
  Detachable mini-snare
Treatment of ACUTE variceal hemorrhage
  Pharmacological treatments
  Combined endoscopic and pharmacological therapy
   Comparing TIPSS with endoscopic treatments
  Consensus approach to acute bleeding
  Combined endoscopic therapies vs. single therapy
   Synchronous combinations
   Metachronous combinations
Prophylactic treatment of esophageal varices
  Detection and surveillance
  Endoscopic prophylaxis
Gastric varices
Endoscopic ultrasonography in variceal hemorrhage
  EUS and gastric varices
Outstanding issues and future trends
  H.pylori-associated gastritis
  Gastritis: clinical manifestations and symptoms
Ulcer disease
  H.pylori and ulcers
  H.pylori: the pathogenetic pathway
   Pattern and phenotype of gastritis in association with H. pylori
   Alterations in the homeostasis of gastric hormones and acid secretion related to H. pylori
   Gastric metaplasia in the duodenum is a prerequisite for H. pylori colonization
   Interaction of H. pylori with the mucosal barrier
   Ulcerogenic strains of H. pylori
   Genetic factors and H. pylori
   The therapeutic proof of causality: H. pylori and ulcers
  Ulcers: clinical features and diagnosis
   Test and treat
   Endoscopic diagnosis
Treatment of peptic ulcers
  Acid suppression
  H.pylori eradication
NSAIDs and gastrointestinal pathology
  Clinical and histological characteristics of NSAID-related injury
  Epidemiology of NSAIDs and gastric injury
  Risk modifiers of injury with NSAIDs
   Dosage and type of NSAID
   Prior ulcer
   H.pylori infection and NSAIDs combined
  Management of NSAID-associated gastrointestinal toxicity
   Selective COX-2 inhibitors
   Prophylaxis against NSAID injury
Outstanding issues and future trends
  Gastric carcinoma
  Premalignant gastric lesions
  Gastric polyps as premalignant lesions
   Adenomatous polyps
   Cystic fundic polyps
   Hyperplastic or hyperplasiogenic polyps
   Fibro-inflammatory polyps
   Hamartomas and juvenile polyps
   Other polyps
  Premalignant conditions in the gastric mucosa
   Chronic atrophic gastritis
Histopathological classification of gastric neoplasia
  TNM classification
  Vienna classification
  Geographical variations of risk
  Proximal and distal gastric cancer
  Causal factors
   Cancer at the EG junction
   Cancer in the distal or non-cardia stomach
  Time trends in incidence and mortality from gastric cancer
   A generalized decline of the disease
   Time trends in Japan
Gastric carcinogenesis
  From inflammation to cancer
  The APC mutation in gastric carcinogenesis
  Mutagenesis in the Lauren classification
  Hereditary gastric cancer
Symptoms of gastric cancer
Endoscopy in the diagnosis of gastric cancer
   At the EG junction
   In the non-cardia stomach
  Technological advances in equipment
   Digitization of the image
   Spectroscopic techniques
  Macroscopic appearance of digestive neoplastic lesions
  Endoscopic classification of superficial neoplastic gastric lesions
   At the EG junction
   In the non-cardia stomach
Non-endoscopic procedures in the diagnosis of gastric cancer
  Radiological imaging and ultrasound
  Molecular biology
   Proliferative indices
   P53 protein and TP53 mutations
  Staging of gastric cancer
Clinical relevance of early diagnosis of gastric cancer
Treatment decisions for gastric cancer
  The role of tumor staging
  Treatment with curative intent
  Other therapeutic options
Endoscopic treatment with curative intent
  Technique of endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR)
   EMR with a cap [97]: EMR-C (aspiration method)
   EMR with a ligating cap [102]: EMR-L (aspiration method)
   EMR with tissue incision [103,105,107,108]
   EMR grasp-method [100,103]
  Indications for EMR
  Results and complications of EMR
Surgery for gastric cancer
  Extent of the resection
  Palliative gastrectomy
Chemoradiation in advanced gastric cancer
  Chemoradiation protocols (palliation)
  Adjuvant chemoradiation protocols
Endoscopic palliation with Nd:YAG laser
Endoscopic palliation with stents
  Types of stents
  Placement of the stent and indications
  Results and complications of stenting
   Results at the EG junction
   Results at the gastric outlet
Guidelines in surveillance
Prevention of gastric cancer
  Prevention and H. pylori infection
  Prevention through dietary intervention
  Unplanned prevention
Secondary prevention of gastric cancer
  Gastroscopy and opportunistic screening
  Mass screening
   In Japan
   In other countries
   Strategy of detection worldwide
  Benefits of nutrition support
  Enteral access
Gastric or enteric feeding?
Nasogastric (NG) feeding
  NG tube placement
  NG tube management
  NG tube complications
Nasojejunal (NJ) feeding
   Different tubes
   Fluoroscopy or endoscopic assistance
   The drag technique
   Through the scope passage
  NJ tube management
  NJ tube feeding complications
   Bronchial misplacement
Percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG)
   Cancer patients
  PEG technique
  PEG tube management
  Complications of PEG
   Tube dislodgement
Percutaneous endoscopy gastrostomy/jejunostomy (PEG/J)
  J tube placement through a PEG (PEG/J)
  PEG/J tube management
  Complications of PEG/J tubes
Direct percutaneous endoscopic jejunostomy (DPEJ)
  DPEJ technique
  DPEJ tube management
  DPEJ tube complications
Enteral formulations
  Blenderized formulations
  Lactose-containing formulations
  Lactose-free formulations
  Elemental formulations
  Specialty formulations
  Modular feedings
  Supplemental regimes
  Immune enhancing diets (IED)
Outstanding issues and future trends
  Sonde enteroscopy
  Push enteroscopy
   Depth of insertion
   Routine biopsy?
  Intraoperative enteroscopy
   Laparoscopic-assisted enteroscopy [32]
   Combined techniques
  Capsule enteroscopy
Clinical applications of enteroscopy and capsule endoscopy
  Obscure gastrointestinal bleeding
   Definitions and prevalence
   Alternative diagnostic procedures in obscure bleeding
   When to use enteroscopy in obscure bleeding
   Pathology of obscure bleeding
   Medical therapy for angiodysplasia
   Diagnostic yield and outcomes of enteroscopic techniques in bleeding
   Comparing capsule and push enteroscopy
   Repeat standard endoscopies before enteroscopy?
   Unusual causes of obscure bleeding
   Enteroscopic therapy for bleeding
   Intraoperative enteroscopy for obscure bleeding
   Push enteroscopy or capsule endoscopy for bleeding?
  Small intestinal mucosal diseases
   Celiac disease
   Crohn's disease
  Small bowel tumors
  Novel indications
Outstanding issues and future trends

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