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Esophageal varices sometimes form when blood flow to your liver is obstructed, most often by scar tissue in the liver caused by liver disease. The blood flow to your liver begins to back up, increasing pressure within the large vein (portal vein) that carries blood to your liver. This pressure (portal hypertension) forces the blood to seek alternate pathways through smaller veins, such as those in the lowest part of the esophagus. These thin-walled veins balloon with the added blood. Sometimes the veins can rupture and bleed.

Causes of esophageal varices include:

  • Severe liver scarring (cirrhosis). A number of liver diseases can result in cirrhosis, such as hepatitis infection, alcoholic liver disease, fatty liver disease and a bile duct disorder called primary biliary cirrhosis. Esophageal varices occur in about 40 percent of people who have cirrhosis.
  • Blood clot (thrombosis). A blood clot in the portal vein or in a vein that feeds into the portal vein called the splenic vein can cause esophageal varices.
  • A parasitic infection. Schistosomiasis is a parasitic infection found in parts of Africa, South America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The parasite can damage the liver, as well as the lungs, intestine and bladder.
  • Budd-Chiari syndrome. This rare condition causes blood clots that can block the veins that carry blood out of your liver.
Mar. 15, 2013

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