Esophageal varices are dilated blood vessels within the walls of the lower part of the esophagus that are prone to bleeding. They can appear in people with severe liver disease. A diseased liver can cause portal hypertension, which is high blood pressure in the portal vein. The portal vein supplies the liver with blood. Over time, this pressure causes blood vessels to grow, called collateral blood vessels. These vessels act as channels to divert the blood under high pressure. The extra pressure in these vessels causes them to dilate and become tortuous. These vessels can eventually reach the lower esophagus and stomach and are prone to rupture. The rupture can lead to significant blood loss from vomiting or from lost blood passing through the gastrointestinal tract.
Symptoms of esophageal varices may include:
- Painless vomiting of blood
- Black, tarry or bloody stools
- Decreased urine output
- Excessive thirst
- Anemia: a condition that indicates a low red blood cell count.