Esophageal Varices: Care Instructions

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The esophagus


Esophageal varices (say "ee-sof-uh-JEE-ul VAIR-uh-seez") are veins in your esophagus that are bigger than normal. Your esophagus is a tube. It carries food from your throat to your stomach.

These veins get big because of pressure in the veins that filter blood from the intestines through the liver. This pressure makes the walls of the veins weak. Then they can rupture and cause very serious bleeding.

This problem is usually found in people who have serious liver disease.

Treatments include medicines and procedures to help lower the pressure in the veins. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment for you.

If you have bleeding from this problem, there is a risk that it will happen again. In this case, it's important to go back and follow up with your doctor.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • Talk to your doctor before you take any other medicines. These include over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal products.
  • Avoid aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve). These can cause sores in your stomach or esophagus. They can also increase the risk for bleeding.
  • Do not drink alcohol. It increases your risk of bleeding. It can also make liver damage worse. Tell your doctor if you need help to quit. Counseling, support groups, and sometimes medicines can help you stay sober.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You vomit blood or what looks like coffee grounds.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You feel very sleepy or confused.
  • You have new or worse belly pain.
  • You have a fever.
  • There is a new or increasing yellow tint to your skin or the whites of your eyes.
  • You have any abnormal bleeding, such as:
    • Nosebleeds.
    • Vaginal bleeding that is different (heavier, more frequent, at a different time of the month) than what you are used to.
    • Bloody or black stools, or rectal bleeding.
    • Bloody or pink urine.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have any problems.
  • Your belly is getting bigger.
  • You are gaining weight.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.