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Plummer-Vinson syndrome

Definition

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

Alternative Names

Paterson-Kelly syndrome; Sideropenic dysphagia; Esophageal web

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

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 cause a tear, which leads to bleeding.

Plummer-Vinson syndrome has been linked to 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.

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: 11/12/2010
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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