Health Information and Tools > Patient Care Handouts >  Esophageal Varices: Care Instructions

Main Content

Esophageal Varices: Care Instructions

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 or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) 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 or nurse advice line 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, and natural health products, such as 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. Counselling, 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 or nurse advice line 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 or nurse advice line if:

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

Where can you learn more?

Go to

Enter Y918 in the search box to learn more about "Esophageal Varices: Care Instructions".

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.