What Is the Main Cause of Esophageal Varices?

Reviewed on 2/25/2021

What are esophageal varices?

Esophageal varices are enlarged veins in the esophagus. The main cause of esophageal varices is liver disease.
Esophageal varices are enlarged veins in the esophagus. The main cause of esophageal varices is liver disease.

Esophageal varices are enlarged veins in the food pipe (esophagus). This condition develops in people with liver disease. The liver is the organ that serves several functions including the removal of toxins from the blood. Liver disease affects the blood flow to the liver due to the presence of a clot or scar in the portal vein or splenic vein. As a result, the pressure in the portal vein shoots up. The portal vein is the vein that delivers blood to the liver.

As the pressure shoots up in the portal vein, the blood is pushed into surrounding blood vessels, including vessels in the esophagus. These blood vessels have a thin wall and cannot hold the extra blood. Hence, the blood vessels of the esophagus expand and swell, which are known as varices. If the extra blood exerts more pressure on the walls of the esophageal vessels, the varices can break open and bleed. Bleeding is an emergency condition, as uncontrolled bleeding can lead to shock and death.

Some of the conditions that can cause esophageal varices include

What are the symptoms of esophageal varices?

Esophageal varices don’t show any symptoms until they bleed. When the varices start to bleed, the symptoms include

These may be the signs of underlying liver disease

What liver conditions can lead to esophageal varices?

Any severe liver disease can cause esophageal varices. Some of the most common liver conditions that can lead to esophageal varices include

Who is at risk for esophageal varices that break open and bleed?

Not every person who has esophageal varices will have bleeding. Some of the factors that may increase the chance of bleeding include

How are esophageal varices treated?

The primary goal of the treatment is to prevent bleeding. If bleeding occurs, treatments are available to stop the bleeding.

Treatment to prevent bleeding

The treatment options include

  • Medicines to reduce blood pressure, such as propranolol and nadolol
  • Elastic bands to tie off bleeding veins

Treatment to stop bleeding

The treatment options include

You can prevent esophageal varices by

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References
Medscape Medical Reference

Cleveland Clinic


Mayo Clinic


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