In people who have cirrhosis, high blood pressure in the veins that carry blood from the intestines to the liver (portal hypertension) causes many problems. One serious complication of portal hypertension is variceal bleeding.
When blood pressure increases in the portal vein system, veins in the esophagus, stomach, and rectum enlarge to accommodate blocked blood flow through the liver. The presence of enlarged veins (varices) usually causes no symptoms. (They may be found during an endoscopy exam of the esophagus.)
As the blood pressure in the portal vein system continues to increase, the walls of these expanded veins become thinner, causing the veins to rupture and bleed. This is called variceal bleeding.