Endoscopic therapy, involving either injection sclerosis or band ligation, is considered the intervention of first choice for acute variceal bleeding (AVB). Pharmacologic agents have also been shown to be highly effective in the control of the bleeding episode. The purpose of this meta-analysis was to assess whether vasoactive drugs may improve the efficacy of endoscopic therapy (injection sclerosis or band ligation) in the control of AVB and thus increase survival rates. Computer databases and scientific meeting abstracts from 1994 to 2001 were used to search for randomized trials that compared the combined use of endoscopic and drug therapy with endoscopic therapy alone in the control of AVB. Eight trials involving 939 patients fulfilled the selection criteria and the following evaluated by standard meta-analysis methods: initial hemostasis, 5-day hemostasis, 5-day mortality, and adverse events. Combined treatment improved initial control of bleeding (relative risk [RR], 1.12; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.02-1.23), and 5-day hemostasis (RR, 1.28; 95% CI, 1.18-1.39), with numbers of patients needed to treat (NNT) of 8 and 5, respectively. The difference in favor of combined treatment remained significant when trials that used drugs other than octreotide or that included a low proportion of alcoholic patients (<40%) or high-risk cirrhotic patients (<35%) were excluded. Mortality was not significantly decreased by combined therapy (RR, 0.73; 95% CI, 0.45-1.18). Severe adverse events were similar in both groups. In conclusion, in patients with AVB, pharmacologic agents improve the efficacy of endoscopic therapy to achieve initial control of bleeding and 5-day hemostasis, yet fail to affect mortality.