Esophageal Varices

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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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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
  • Severe heart failure
  • Hodgkin's disease
  • Sarcoidosis

Risk Factors

Factors that increase your chance of developing esophageal varices include:

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

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