What Are Esophageal Varices?

What Causes Esophageal Varices

liver image, normal liver image,
Normal Liver. Image: ADAM

Definition: Esophageal varices, also known as bleeding varices, are swollen and enlarged veins in the esophagus and sometimes the stomach. 

Causes of Esophageal Varices

Esophageal varices are caused by an increase in pressures in the portal vein, the blood vessel that connects the liver to the digestive organs. This elevated pressure is called portal hypertension. The increase in pressure in the portal vein causes a back up of blood, first in the portal vein, then in the blood vessels that feed the portal vein.

 Eventually, the blood backs up to the point where the blood vessels in the esophagus (and/or stomach) enlarge, swell and become very fragile.

The increase in pressure in the portal vein is usually caused by a liver condition or disease.  Cirrhosis and hepatitis are often at the root of this serious problem.

Why Esophageal Varices Are So Serious

The esophageal varices are not just swollen blood vessels, they are stretched thin like an over-inflated balloon, and are sensitive, and can bleed easily. In the esophagus, the motions of swallowing food and fluids are a constant source of irritation for these engorged blood vessels.

When the vessels start bleeding, there is enough pressure backing up from the liver that the bleeding can become life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.

Pronunciation: var-ih-sees

Also Known As: varices, gastric varices, esophageal varices

Common Misspellings: varisees, varises, varicees,

Examples: After being diagnosed with cirrhosis, the patient learned that she was at risk for esophageal varices.

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