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Esophageal Varices

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 3, 2022.

What are esophageal varices?

Esophageal varices are swollen veins in the lower part of your esophagus. They are caused by increased pressure in the blood vessels of your liver. As the pressure builds in your liver, the pressure also builds in the veins in your esophagus.

Digestive Tract

What increases my risk for esophageal varices?

  • Liver disease, such as cirrhosis, hepatitis, and fatty liver
  • Long-term conditions, such as pancreatitis, sarcoidosis, and Budd-Chiari syndrome
  • Cancers, such as lymphoma, leukemia, and cancers of the liver or pancreas
  • Parasite infections, such as schistosomiasis

What are the signs and symptoms of esophageal varices?

You may have any of the following symptoms based on the cause of your esophageal varices:

  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Faster heartbeat or breathing than usual
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Cool, clammy skin
  • Swollen abdomen and feet

How are esophageal varices diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your health history and examine you. He or she may use an endoscope to see the walls of your esophagus and upper intestines. An endoscope is a bendable metal tube with a light and tiny camera on the end. It is placed down your throat and moved into your stomach and intestines.

How are esophageal varices treated?

The goal of treatment is to prevent the varices from breaking open and bleeding. You may be given medicines to decrease the pressure in your liver or to reduce stomach acid. You may need to have a shunt placed to relieve pressure. Bands may be placed around large varices to cause them to shrink. The bands may be used to prevent or stop bleeding. You may need surgery to remove the bleeding section of your esophagus if healthcare providers cannot stop the bleeding.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

How can I prevent my varices from bleeding?

  • Do not drink alcohol. This will help prevent more damage to your esophagus and liver. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you need help to quit drinking.
  • Eat healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Ask if you need to be on a special diet. You may need to eat foods that reduce stomach acid. Stomach acid can get into your esophagus and cause the varices to break open and bleed.
    Healthy Foods
  • Limit sodium (salt). You may need to decrease the amount of sodium you eat if you have swelling caused by fluid buildup. Fluid buildup can cause increased pressure in your veins. Sodium is found in table salt and salty foods such as canned foods, frozen foods, and potato chips.

  • Drink liquids as directed. Too much liquid can increase the pressure in your veins. Ask your healthcare provider how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have severe abdominal pain.
  • You see blood in your vomit or bowel movements.
  • You have chest pain or are short of breath.
  • You have trouble thinking clearly.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Treatment options

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Further information

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