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Plummer-Vinson syndrome/esophageal web

Definition

Plummer-Vinson syndrome is a condition that occurs with long-term (chronic) iron deficiency anemia. People with this condition have difficulty swallowing due to esophageal webs -- small, thin growths of tissue that partially block the food pipe (esophagus).

Alternative Names

Paterson-Kelly syndrome; Sideropenic dysphagia

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

The cause of Plummer-Vinson syndrome is unknown. Genetic factors and a lack of certain nutrients (nutritional deficiencies) may play a role. It is a rare disorder that is often connected with cancers of the esophagus and throat.

Symptoms

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Weakness

Signs and tests

Some patients develop skin and nail abnormalities that the doctor can see during an examination.

Upper GI series or upper endoscopy may show the web. Tests to diagnose anemia or iron deficiency may be useful.

Treatment

Patients with Plummer-Vinson syndrome should receive iron supplements. This may improve the swallowing difficulty.

If supplements do not help, the web can be widened during upper endoscopy to allow normal swallowing and passage of food.

Expectations (prognosis)

Patients generally respond to treatment.

Complications

Devices used to stretch the esophagus (dilators) may tear it.

There have been reports of a connection between Plummer-Vinson syndrome and esophageal cancer.

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if food gets stuck after you swallow it or if you have severe fatigue and weakness.

Prevention

Good nutrition with enough iron may prevent this disorder.


Review Date: 8/22/2008
Reviewed By: Christian Stone, MD, Division of Gastroenterology, Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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