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What Are Esophageal Varices?

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Updated August 10, 2010

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Normal Liver

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Definition: Esophageal varices, also known as bleeding varices, are swollen and enlarged veins. Despite the name esophageal varices, they can form in the esophagus and the stomach.

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. This increase in pressure causes a back up of blood that makes the blood vessels in the esophagus (and/or stomach) enlarge, swell and become very fragile. The increase in pressure is typically caused by liver disease, such as cirrhosis or hepatitis.

The swollen blood vessels are sensitive, and can bleed easily. When the vessels rupture, the bleeding can be 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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