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
    • Symptoms may include:

      • Difficulty swallowing
      • Weakness
  • Exams and Tests
    • Your doctor will do an exam to look for abnormal areas on your skin and nails.

      You may have an upper GI series or upper endoscopy to look for 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 you to swallow food normally.

  • Outlook (Prognosis)
    • People with this condition generally respond to treatment.

  • Possible Complications
    • Devices used to stretch the esophagus (dilators) may cause a tear. This can lead 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: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 41.