- BACKGROUND & AIMS: Terlipressin and somatostatin decrease portal pressure and have been used to treat variceal hemorrhage, but they have not been adequately compared. The aim of this study was to compare the efficacy and safety of these drugs in the treatment of variceal bleeding in cirrhotic patients. METHODS: Of 161 patients with variceal bleeding. 80 were randomized to receive (double-blind) intravenous terlipressin (2 mg/4 h) and 81 to receive somatostatin (continuous infusion of 250 micrograms/h after an intravenous injection of 250 micrograms). Success of therapy was defined as a 24-hour bleeding-free period within 48 hours from randomization. RESULTS: Success of therapy was similar with terlipressin (80%) and somatostatin (84%). In patients with Child's class A and B disease, terlipressin was effective in 52 of 60 (87%) and somatostatin in 48 of 55 (87%). Success rates in class C were 60% and 77% (P = 0.33). No differences were observed in rebleeding rates (30% vs. 28.4%) and 6-week mortality rates (13 vs. 13 patients). Incidence of side effects was significantly higher in the terlipressin group (38.8% vs. 23.5%; P = 0.042). Severe side effects requiring intervention occurred in 5 of 80 and 4 of 81 patients, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: Terlipressin and somatostatin are highly effective as first-line treatment of variceal hemorrhage in cirrhotic patients. The low incidence of severe side effects suggests that drug therapy may be maintained for longer periods to prevent early rebleeding.