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A to Z: Varices

May also be called: Bleeding Varices; Esophageal Varices; Gastroesophageal Varices; Rectal Varices; Gastric Varices

Varices (VAIR-uh-seez) are swollen blood vessels that usually develop in the esophagus or stomach.

More to Know

Certain conditions can lead to high blood pressure in different parts of the body. This may cause blood vessels to swell, and sometimes rupture and bleed. These swollen blood vessels are called varices. Most of the time, varices develop in veins, but they also can develop in arteries or lymphatic vessels.

Varices are found most commonly in the esophagus and stomach, where they usually develop as a result of cirrhosis, which is scarring of the liver. The scarring leads to poor blood circulation and high blood pressure, forcing blood into small veins in the esophagus and gastrointestinal tract that aren't equipped to handle the increased blood flow.

Most varices cause no symptoms until they rupture and bleed. Symptoms of a bleeding varix (singular of varices) include vomiting blood, black or bloody stools, rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, and shock. Bleeding varices are medical emergencies that can be life threatening if they aren't treated quickly. Treatment involves surgical and nonsurgical procedures to stop the bleeding and treat the condition causing high blood pressure.

Keep in Mind

If varices are diagnosed before they rupture, steps can be taken to help prevent them from bleeding. This includes losing weight, avoiding alcohol, and taking medications to treat high blood pressure. Regular checkups with a doctor increase the chances of detecting a varix before it becomes a problem.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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