Esophageal varices

The esophagus is the tube that connects the throat and stomach and acts as the passageway for food and liquids. Esophageal varices are abnormally enlarged veins in the lower part of this tube.

Esophageal varices often aren’t discovered unless they rupture and bleed. If this happens, immediate medical attention is needed because if esophageal bleeding isn’t stopped, it can be fatal.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of esophageal varices are:

  • Vomiting blood
  • Black, tarry or bloody stools
  • Decreased urination from unusually low blood pressure
  • Lightheadedness

If your child is experiencing these symptoms, call 911 or bring your child to the emergency department.

What causes esophageal varices?

Esophageal varices are often a complication of serious liver diseases. Esophageal varices can develop when normal blood flow to the liver through the portal vein is blocked. The portal vein is where blood from the intestine, spleen, and pancreas enters the liver. When the blood backs up into the smaller and more fragile vessels in the esophagus, they swell. Sometimes, the swelling can also happen in the stomach or rectum.

How are esophageal varices treated?

Primarily, the medical team’s goal is to prevent esophageal varices from bleeding. Sometimes, bleeding can be prevented by taking high blood pressure medications to reduce the pressure in the portal vein. Other times, the varices can be injected with liquid to make them dissolve. In some cases, the best option is a procedure where the varices are secured using special elastic bands before they have a chance to rupture.

Since esophageal varices are often a complication of another condition, the gastrointestinal team at Children’s will provide treatment according to your child’s unique needs. If your child is already bleeding, emergency care is necessary and may involve medications and/or surgery.

About surgery for esophageal varices at Children’s

Surgery for esophageal varices is commonly performed at Children’s. The procedure typically is performed by pediatric gastroenterologists and/or pediatric general surgeons, depending on the unique condition and needs of your child. Gastroenterology teams at Children’s provide next-generation care to neonatal infants, newborns, children, and adolescents from throughout the Upper Midwest and consistently performs some of the most cutting-edge surgical procedures available, including newborn surgery, laparoscopic and other minimally invasive surgeries, and robotic surgery, when appropriate. Surgery for esophageal varices is performed at Children’s Minnesota – Minneapolis and Children’s Minnesota – St. Paul.

Contact us

  • If you are a family member looking for a Children’s specialist in general surgery or gastroenterology, please visit Find a Doctor.
  • If you are a health professional looking for a consultation or referral information, please call Children’s Physician Access at 1-866-755-2121 (toll-free).