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Plummer-Vinson syndrome

Definition

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

Alternative Names

Paterson-Kelly syndrome; Sideropenic dysphagia; Esophageal web

Causes

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 can be linked to cancers of the esophagus and throat. It is more common in women.

Symptoms

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Weakness

Exams and Tests

You may develop skin and nail abnormalities that your doctor can see during an exam.

Upper GI series or upper endoscopy may show the abnormal tissue in the food pipe. You may have tests to look for anemia or iron deficiency.

Treatment

Taking iron supplements may improve the swallowing problems.

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

Outlook (Prognosis)

People with this condition generally respond to treatment.

Possible Complications

Devices used to stretch the esophagus (dilators) may cause a tear, which leads to bleeding.

Plummer-Vinson syndrome has been linked to esophageal cancer.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if:

  • Food gets stuck after you swallow it
  • You have severe fatigue and weakness

Prevention

Getting enough iron in your diet may prevent this disorder.

References

Long JD, Orlando RC. Anatomy, histology, embryology, and developmental anomalies of the esophagus. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 41.


Review Date: 10/8/2012
Reviewed By: George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, and Stephanie Slon.
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