Medical Q&As

Oesophageal varices - explain?

Can you explain what oesophageal varices are? Are they life threatening and what is the life expectancy with them? Also are they hereditary?

Oesophageal varices are varicose veins that occur in the lower end of the lining of the oesophagus. They usually occur as a consequence of portal hypertension, which means high blood pressure within the portal vein. The portal vein is the major blood vessel that conveys nutrients and other materials from the gastrointestinal tract to the liver. If the liver is diseased blood flow through that organ can be sluggish, which in turn can cause back pressure on the portal vein, which in turn gives rise to the varices or swollen veins. Oesophageal varices are not a distinct and separate condition but rather a consequence of disease in the liver. Any serious liver disease can give rise to oesophageal varices however; cirrhosis due to excessive alcohol consumption is the commonest cause. The principal concern with oesophageal varices is that they can rupture, which can result in serious loss of blood. Such blood loss, if severe, can be life threatening. Oesophageal varices are not hereditary but they can occur with hereditary conditions of the liver. The presence of oesophageal varices implies that the affected person has an underlying abnormality in liver function. The nature of that condition has an important bearing on the prognosis. Recurrent bleeding from oesophageal varices is associated with a poor prognosis.