Esophageal Varices: Definition, Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Instructor: Emily Smathers
This lesson will define esophageal varices, describing symptoms, and discussing causes and treatment. Esophageal varices are serious and relate to the health of the liver.

The Liver, the Esophagus, the Veins, and Esophageal Varices

Have you experienced or known someone with liver damage and wondered why this is considered so serious? There are many dangers associated with liver damage, including complete loss of liver functionality, decreased absorption of nutrients, increased absorption of toxins, and scarring of the liver. Liver scarring can lead to blockages, which in turn can lead to esophageal varices.

The esophagus is the tube that lies between the pharynx (at the top of the throat) and the stomach. The esophagus has prolific veins at the base for delivering blood to the liver for detoxification or nutrient removal from the body. If the liver is damaged and blockages develop, this can cause blood to divert to smaller vessels, pressure to build, and veins to expand. This results in esophageal varices, or swollen veins at the base of the esophagus.

Esophageal Varices
Esophageal Varices


There aren't any symptoms of esophageal varices - which make them dangerous. You would only know that you had varices if they began to bleed. Bleeding from varices is extremely dangerous since it is possible to lose up to 50% of your blood volume. This is why if you vomit blood, particularly bright, red blood, or have black, tarry stools, medical intervention with a physician is immediately required.


The basic cause for esophageal varices is blockage of larger blood vessels in the liver shunting blood to smaller veins in the esophagus with resulted swelling. There are many things that can block the liver's blood vessels, with alcohol being the most common. Frequent alcohol use damages the liver and over many years can leave scarring and inflammation in the liver, causing the liver to overwork to compensate for the scars and inflammation.

Other conditions can damage the liver, such as high fat diets, cancer, and hepatitis. One less common form of liver blood flow blockage is a blood clot, which can block the liver's blood flow, and another is schistosomiasis. Schistosomiasis is a parasitic disease spread to humans via worms and common in less developed countries where the worms live. This fortunately makes it rare in the United States yet treatable with antibiotics.


Esophageal varices can be treated with variceal ligation. Variceal ligation is an endoscopic procedure that blocks the majority of blood flow to a particular varice so that natural clotting can occur, allowing for the body to heal itself.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account