Treatments and drugsBy Mayo Clinic staff
The primary aim in treating esophageal varices is to prevent bleeding. Bleeding esophageal varices are life-threatening. If bleeding occurs, treatments are available to try to stop the bleeding.
Treatments to prevent bleeding
Treatments to lower blood pressure in the portal vein may reduce the risk of bleeding esophageal varices. Treatments may include:
- Medications to reduce pressure in the portal vein. A type of blood pressure drug called a beta blocker may help reduce blood pressure in your portal vein, decreasing the likelihood of bleeding. These medications include propranolol (Inderal, Innopran) and nadolol (Corgard).
- Using elastic bands to tie off bleeding veins. If your esophageal varices appear to have a very high risk of bleeding, your doctor may recommend a procedure called band ligation. Using an endoscope, the doctor snares the varices and wraps them with an elastic band, which essentially "strangles" the veins so they can't bleed. Esophageal band ligation carries a small risk of complications, such as scarring of the esophagus.
Treatments to stop bleeding
Bleeding varices are life-threatening, and immediate treatment is essential. Treatments used to stop bleeding include:
- Using elastic bands to tie off bleeding veins.
- Medications to slow blood flow into the portal vein. Medications can slow the flow of blood from the internal organs to the portal vein, reducing the pressure in the vein. A drug called octreotide (Sandostatin) is often used in combination with endoscopic therapy to treat bleeding from esophageal varices. The drug is usually continued for five days after a bleeding episode.
Diverting blood flow away from the portal vein. Your doctor may recommend a procedure called transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS). The shunt is a small tube that is placed between the portal vein and the hepatic vein, which carries blood from your liver back to your heart. By providing an additional path for blood, the shunt reduces pressure in the portal vein and often stops bleeding from esophageal varices.
But TIPS can cause a number of serious complications, including liver failure and mental confusion, which may develop when toxins that would normally be filtered by the liver are passed through the shunt directly into the bloodstream. TIPS is mainly used when all other treatments have failed or as a temporary measure in people awaiting a liver transplant.
- Replacing the diseased liver with a healthy one. Liver transplant is an option for people with severe liver disease or those who experience recurrent bleeding of esophageal varices. Although liver transplantation is often successful, the number of people awaiting transplants far outnumbers the available organs.
Bleeding will recur in most people who have bleeding from esophageal varices. Beta blockers and esophageal band ligation are the recommended treatments to help prevent rebleeding.
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