A rise in pressure in the portal vein is a frequent occurrence in patients with cirrhosis. One common manifestation affecting at least 50% of cirrhosis patients is the development of gastroesophageal varices and portal hypertensive gastropathy. Bleeding from gastric or esophageal varices will occur in approximately 1/4 of cirrhotic patients with an associated high mortality. Large esophageal varices that have red color signs and isolated gastric varices in the fundus of the stomach are most likely to hemorrhage. The greatest risk of bleeding is during the first year following the index endoscopy. Once varices have bled they are almost certain to rebleed in the absence of therapy. Similarly, severe portal hypertensive gastropathy is likely to cause chronic blood loss. Knowledge of the natural history of gastroesophageal varices allows for the development of effective treatment strategies.
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