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Background: The presence of esophageal varices is considered a relative contraindication to transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) by cardiology professional societies, so gastroenterologists are often consulted to perform upper endoscopy prior to TEE in patients with cirrhosis.

Aim: To perform a systematic review to quantify the risk of bleeding complications in patients with cirrhosis following TEE.

Methods: Two reviewers searched Ovid MEDLINE, MEDLINE In-Process and EMBASE databases from January 1992 to May 2021 for studies reporting bleeding complications from TEE in patients with cirrhosis. We calculated the pooled incidence rate of bleeding events using the metaprop command with a random effect model.

Results: We identified 21 studies comprising 4050 unique patients with cirrhosis; 9 studies (n = 3015) assessed the risk of intraoperative TEE during liver transplant (LT) and 12 studies (n = 1035) assessed bleeding risk in patients undergoing TEE for other indications. The pooled incidence of bleeding post-TEE was 0.37% (95% CI 0.04-0.94%) across all studies. Bleeding complications were low among patients undergoing TEE during LT as well as those undergoing TEE for other diagnostic reasons (0.97% vs. 0.004%) and among studies with mean MELD >18 compared to those with mean MELD <18 (0.43% vs. 0.08%). Few studies had a comparator arm, and data on patient-level factors impacting bleeding complications (including degree of liver dysfunction and coagulopathy) were limited across studies.

Conclusions: The risk of bleeding complications following TEE is low in patients with cirrhosis, suggesting TEE is safe and risk stratification with upper endoscopy may not be necessary.

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