Esophageal Varices

The esophagus connects the mouth to the stomach. Esophageal varices are abnormally swollen veins within the lining of the esophagus. If undiagnosed or untreated, esophageal varices can rupture and lead to life-threatening bleeding.

  • Causes


    Increased pressure in the veins that deliver blood to the liver is known as
    portal hypertension. The increased pressure causes blood to back up into other smaller vessels, including those of the esophagus. This leads to the formation of esophageal varices.

    The medical conditions that lead to the development of portal hypertension and esophageal varices include:

    • Cirrhosis of the liver
    • Blood clots of the splenic, portal, or hepatic veins
    • Arterial-portal venous fistula—abnormal connections between arteries and veins in the liver or spleen
    • Certain infections, such as schistosomiasis, which is a parasite
    • Severe heart failure
    • Hodgkin's disease
    • Sarcoidosis

  • Definition

    The esophagus connects the mouth to the stomach. Esophageal varices are abnormally swollen veins within the lining of the esophagus. If undiagnosed or untreated, esophageal varices can rupture and lead to life-threatening bleeding.

    The Esophagus
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  • Diagnosis

    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

    Tests may include the following:

    • Endoscopy to view your esophagus
    • Ultrasound
    • Blood tests

  • Prevention

    To help reduce your chances of getting esophageal varices, take these steps:

    • Seek immediate treatment for long-term alcohol abuse.
    • Tell your doctor if you are at risk for chronic liver disease, blood clots, or are on medications that may damage the liver.

    If you already have chronic liver disease, your doctor may prescribe drugs to prevent swollen vessels from developing.

  • Risk Factors

    Factors that increase your chance of developing esophageal varices include:

    • Chronic alcohol intake

    • Chronic
      viral hepatitis

  • Symptoms

    Esophageal varices are usually only diagnosed when bleeding occurs. Though bleeding from esophageal varices may not be severe and may stop on its own, first-time bleeding events may result in death in some cases.

    Signs of bleeding from esophageal varices include:

    • Vomiting or coughing up blood
    • Red, tarry, or very dark stools
    • Low blood pressure
    • Lightheadedness
    • Rapid heartbeat

  • Treatment

    Several treatments can help lower the risk of vessel rupture or stop bleeding if it starts. Treatment options include the following: