Gastric varices are dilated submucosal veins in the lining of the stomach, which can be a life-threatening cause of bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract. They are most commonly found in patients with portal hypertension, or elevated pressure in the portal vein system, which may be a complication of cirrhosis. Gastric varices may also be found in patients with thrombosis of the splenic vein, into which the short gastric veins which drain the fundus of the stomach flow. The latter may be a complication of acute pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, or other abdominal tumors, as well as hepatitis C. Gastric varices and associated bleeding are a potential complication of schistosomiasis resulting from portal hypertension.
Patients with bleeding gastric varices can present with bloody vomiting (hematemesis), dark, tarry stools (melena), or rectal bleeding. The bleeding may be brisk, and patients may soon develop shock. Treatment of gastric varices can include injection of the varices with cyanoacrylate glue, or a radiological procedure to decrease the pressure in the portal vein, termed transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt or TIPS. Treatment with intravenous octreotide is also useful to shunt blood flow away from the stomach’s circulation. More aggressive treatment including splenectomy (or surgical removal of the spleen) or liver transplantation may be required in some cases.