Esophageal varices are abnormal, enlarged veins in the lower part of the esophagus — the tube that connects the throat and stomach. Esophageal varices occur most often in people with serious liver diseases.
Esophageal varices develop when normal blood flow to the liver is obstructed by scar tissue in the liver or a clot. Seeking a way around the blockages, blood flows into smaller blood vessels that are not designed to carry large volumes of blood. The vessels may leak blood or even rupture, causing life-threatening bleeding.
A number of drugs and medical procedures can help prevent and stop bleeding from esophageal varices.
Esophageal varices are enlarged veins in the lower esophagus. They're often due to obstructed blood flow through the portal vein, which carries blood from the intestine, pancreas and spleen to the ...
Esophageal varices usually don't cause signs and symptoms unless they bleed. Signs and symptoms of bleeding esophageal varices include:
Your doctor may suspect varices if you have any of the following signs of liver disease:
When to see a doctor
If you've been diagnosed with esophageal varices, your doctor may instruct you to be vigilant for signs of bleeding. Bleeding esophageal varices are an emergency. Call 911 or your local emergency services right away if you experience bloody vomit or bloody stools.
Esophageal varices sometimes form when blood flow to your liver is obstructed, most often by scar tissue in the liver caused by liver disease. The blood flow to your liver begins to back up, increasing pressure within the large vein (portal vein) that carries blood to your liver. This pressure (portal hypertension) forces the blood to seek alternate pathways through smaller veins, such as those in the lowest part of the esophagus. These thin-walled veins balloon with the added blood. Sometimes the veins can rupture and bleed.
Causes of esophageal varices include:
The esophagus is a muscular tube that connects your mouth and your stomach. Rings of muscle (sphincters) in the upper and lower portions contract and relax to allow food and liquid to pass. ...
Although many people with advanced liver disease develop esophageal varices, most won't experience bleeding. Varices are more likely to bleed if you have:
Preparing for your appointment
Make an appointment with your family doctor or a general practitioner if you think you may have a disease or condition that could lead to esophageal varices. If you're experiencing signs and symptoms of internal bleeding, you may be told to immediately call 911 or your local emergency number to be taken to the hospital for urgent care. There you will be evaluated by a doctor who specializes in digestive disorders (gastroenterologist).
Here's some information to help you get ready for an appointment.
What you can do
Questions to ask your doctor
Don't hesitate to ask other questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Tests and diagnosis
If you have cirrhosis, your doctor should screen you for esophageal varices at the time you are first diagnosed. How often you'll undergo screening tests depends on your condition. Main tests used to diagnose esophageal varices are:
An endoscopy procedure involves inserting a long, flexible tube (endoscope) down your throat and into your esophagus. A tiny camera on the end of the endoscope lets your doctor examine your esophagus,...
Treatments and drugs
The primary aim in treating esophageal varices is to prevent bleeding. Bleeding esophageal varices are life-threatening. If bleeding occurs, treatments are available to try to stop the bleeding.
Treatments to prevent bleeding
Treatments to stop bleeding
Currently, no treatment can prevent the development of esophageal varices in people with cirrhosis. While beta blocker drugs are effective in preventing bleeding in many people who have esophageal varices, they do not keep esophageal varices from forming.
If you've been diagnosed with liver disease, ask your doctor about strategies to avoid liver disease complications. Some steps which may help keep your liver as healthy as possible include:
Last Updated: 2013-03-15
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