If you have cirrhosis, your doctor should screen you for esophageal varices when you're diagnosed. How often you'll undergo screening tests depends on your condition. Main tests used to diagnose esophageal varices are:

  • Endoscope exam. A procedure called upper gastrointestinal endoscopy is the preferred method of screening for varices. Your doctor inserts a thin, flexible, lighted tube (endoscope) through your mouth and into your esophagus, stomach and the beginning of your small intestine (duodenum).

    The doctor will look for dilated veins, measure them, if found, and check for red streaks and red spots, which usually indicate a significant risk of bleeding. Treatment can be performed during the exam.

  • Imaging tests. Both abdominal CT scans and Doppler ultrasounds of the splenic and portal veins can suggest the presence of esophageal varices.
  • Capsule endoscopy. In this test, you swallow a vitamin-sized capsule containing a tiny camera, which takes pictures of the esophagus as it goes through your digestive tract. This might be an option for people who are unable or unwilling to have an endoscope exam. This technology is more expensive than regular endoscopy and not as available.