Esophageal Varices

What are esophageal varices?

Esophageal varices are swollen blood vessels in the esophagus (swallowing tube), the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. Esophageal varices may appear in people with serious liver disease.

What causes esophageal varices?

Esophageal varices occur when normal blood flow to your liver is slowed. Liver disease may create scar tissue in the liver which slows the flow of blood. When the blood to your liver is slowed, it begins to back up, leading to an increase of pressure in the major vein (portal vein) that carries blood to your liver. This increase pressure forces the nearby smaller veins to swell, such as those in your esophagus.

What are the symptoms of esophageal varices?

Esophageal varices do not cause symptoms unless they leak or burst. A leaking esophageal varices causes bleeding which can be very serious. Signs of bleeding from esophageal varices include, vomiting blood; dark-colored or black bowel movements; feeling lightheaded and passing out. If you get these symptoms, your doctor should know and/or call 9-1-1.

How are esophageal varices diagnosed?

A test called an upper endoscopy can be done to check for esophageal varices. The doctor puts a thin, flexible tube into your mouth down your throat and into your esophagus. The tube (called an endoscope) has a camera and light on it which the doctor can see inside your esophagus and stomach. This may be done in our endoscopy center with IV (intravenous) sedation to provide comfort. Sometimes, doctors do a test using a small capsule with a tiny camera inside. The capsule sends photos of the lining of your esophagus and stomach to a device outside your body. A doctor then looks for any problems in the photos.

How are esophageal varices treated?

Treatment for esophageal varices is to prevent them from bleeding and treating the underlying liver disease.

Please feel free to call (315) 452-3235 with any questions and concerns.

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