Esophageal varices are the veins that are inflamed or enlarged inside the esophagus. Esophagus is the tube that carries food from mouth to the stomach. When veins get enlarged in the lining of the esophagus it is called esophageal varices. This is a condition that is associated with serious liver disease. With appropriate treatment esophageal varices can be treated.
Esophageal varices occur due to the blockage in the normal flow of blood to the liver usually due to the formation of a clot in the liver. Due to the block in the normal blood flow, the blood flows into smaller blood vessels which are not meant to carry large amount of blood and therefore, the vessels rupture and the blood begins to leak out causing serious complications.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
People suffering from esophageal varices do not have any symptoms. In case of bleeding, the symptoms that appear are dark streaks in the stool. If the person suffers from large amount of bleeding, the symptoms include:
- Bloody stools
- Bloody vomiting
- Pain in the stomach
- Loss of consciousness
- Black stools
Scarring of the liver is the most common cause of esophageal varices. Scarring blocks the normal flow of blood through the liver and therefore more amount of blood flows through the veins present in the esophagus. This results in the swelling of the veins in the esophagus. Heavy bleeding may occur in case the veins break. Any type of parasitic infection in the esophagus may also cause esophageal varices.
People with the following problems are at a risk of developing esophageal varices.
- Severe scarring
- Excessive vomiting
- Bacterial infection
- Portal hypertension
- Excess consumption of alcohol
The doctor first examines the patient to look for changes and also asks about the symptoms of the condition. He may also require the medical history of the patient. The doctor may then perform a few tests to confirm the diagnosis of esophageal varices.
The following are the tests performed to diagnose the condition:
- Endoscopy is a test performed which uses a camera and a lighted tube that allows the doctor to look directly inside the esophagus, and stomach. An endoscopy is performed for a better evaluation of the condition.
- Imaging tests- Imaging tests include CT scan, MRI, PET scan and X-ray.
- Blood test is performed to check the levels of white blood cells as an increase in the level of white blood cells may indicate the presence of infection.
The main aim of treating esophageal varices is to prevent bleeding as bleeding may be life-threatening. To reduce the risk of bleeding, following are the treatments.
- Medicines such as blood pressure drug called beta blocker (Propranolol and Nadolol) may help in reducing the blood pressure in the portal vein which ultimately reduces bleeding.
- Doctors recommend the use of elastic bands to prevent further damage to the bleeding veins. This procedure is called as bleeding veins.
- In case of excess loss of blood, the patient will be given blood transfusion to replace the lost blood in the body.
- Antibiotics are given to reduce the risk of infection.
- In severe cases, when people experience recurrent bleeding, liver transplantation is performed. The infected liver is transplanted with a new healthy liver.
The following are the preventive measures of esophageal varices.
- Follow a healthy diet
- Avoid consuming alcohol
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain healthy weight
- Reduce the risk of hepatitis by practicing safe sex
- Discard used needles and razors and do not share them
- Avoid contact with bodily fluids and blood of infected people