CEN Esophageal Varices OverviewEsophageal varices are abnormal, enlarged veins in the tube that connects the throat and stomach (esophagus). This condition occurs most often in people with serious liver diseases. Esophageal varices develop when normal blood flow to the liver is blocked by a clot or scar tissue in the liver. To go around the blockages, blood flows into smaller blood vessels that aren't designed to carry large volumes of blood. The vessels can leak blood or even rupture, causing life-threatening bleeding. A number of drugs and medical procedures can help prevent or stop bleeding from esophageal varices.
CEN Esophageal Varices - Signs and SymptomsEsophageal varices usually don't cause signs and symptoms unless they bleed. Signs and symptoms of bleeding esophageal varices include:
- Vomiting large amounts of blood
- Black, tarry or bloody stools
- Loss of consciousness in severe cases
CEN Esophageal Varices - CausesEsophageal varices sometimes form when blood flow to your liver is blocked, most often by scar tissue in the liver caused by liver disease. The blood flow begins to back up, increasing pressure within the large vein (portal vein) that carries blood to your liver. This increased pressure (portal hypertension) forces the blood to seek other 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 rupture and bleed. Causes of esophageal varices include:
- Severe liver scarring (cirrhosis). A number of liver diseases — including hepatitis infection, alcoholic liver disease, fatty liver disease and a bile duct disorder called primary biliary cirrhosis — can result in cirrhosis.
- Blood clot (thrombosis). A blood clot in the portal vein or in a vein that feeds into the portal vein (splenic vein) can cause esophageal varices.
- Parasitic infection. Schistosomiasis is a parasitic infection found in parts of Africa, South America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and East Asia. The parasite can damage the liver, as well as the lungs, intestine, bladder and other organs.
CEN Esophageal Varices - Risk FactorsAlthough many people with advanced liver disease develop esophageal varices, most won't have bleeding. Esophageal varices are more likely to bleed if you have:
- High portal vein pressure. The risk of bleeding increases as the pressure in the portal vein increases (portal hypertension).
- Large varices. The larger the esophageal varices, the more likely they are to bleed.
- Red marks on the varices. When viewed through a thin, flexible tube (endoscope) passed down your throat, some esophageal varices show long, red streaks or red spots. These marks indicate a high risk of bleeding.
- Severe cirrhosis or liver failure. Most often, the more severe your liver disease, the more likely esophageal varices are to bleed.
- Continued alcohol use. Your risk of variceal bleeding is far greater if you continue to drink than if you stop, especially if your disease is alcohol related.
CEN Esophageal Varices - ComplicationsThe most serious complication of esophageal varices is bleeding. Once you've had a bleeding episode, your risk of another bleeding episode greatly increases. If you lose enough blood, you can go into shock, which can lead to death.
CEN Esophageal Varices - TreatmentThe 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.
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