Center for Digestive Diseases

UNM Hospitals Center
for Digestive Diseases

1001 Martin Luther King Ave. NE
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87106

(505)272-2530 or

UNMH: (505)272-6839
CDD: (505)925-7849

Esophageal Varices

What are esophageal varices?

Esophageal varices are enlarged veins in the esophagus that develop in the setting of cirrhosis.

What are the symptoms of esophageal varices?

Esophageal varices may cause serious bleeding that presents as vomiting of blood or passage of black tarry stools associated with lightheadedness.  Usually esophageal varices do not cause symptoms and that is why screening patients with cirrhosis for esophageal varices is important.

What causes esophageal varices?

Cirrhosis of the liver and other conditions can increase pressure in the portal veins that drain into the liver.  This increased pressure can cause a backup of blood in particular areas, especially in the veins of the esophagus. 

How are esophageal varices diagnosed?

Esophageal varices are usually diagnosed during upper endoscopy.  Upper endoscopy (EGD; esophagogastroduodenoscopy) is an outpatient procedure in which your doctor uses a thin, flexible tube called an endoscope, with a camera and light to examine the lining of your esophagus, stomach and duodenum (first portion of the small intestine).

What is the treatment for esophageal varices?

Your doctor may recommend a medication called propranolol or nadolol to decrease the pressure in your esophageal varices in order to prevent bleeding.  Esophageal varices can also be treated by “banding” in order to decrease the size of the varices and thereby decrease the risk of bleeding.  In this procedure a small plastic cap is placed on the end of an endoscope and during the examination the esophageal varices are suctioned into the plastic cap and a rubber band is placed at the bottom of the suctioned tissue. Banding causes the varices to decrease in size.  Usually multiple sessions over time are required to completely collapse or eradicate the varices.

Dedicated Specialists in this area:

Dr. Joseph Alcorn
Dr. Sanjeev Arora
Dr. Michael Gavin
Dr. Michael Gilles
Dr. Martin Kistin
Dr. Thomas Ma
Dr. Gulshan Parasher
Dr. Arun Pillai
Dr. Eric Stone
Dr. Trent Taylor