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Ascites

Definition

Ascites is the buildup of excess fluid in the abdominal cavity.

Ascites
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Causes

Ascites can be caused by:

  • Cirrhosis (most common cause)
  • High blood pressure in the liver's portal venous system
  • Poor nutrition or other health problems that lead to low amounts of protein in the blood
  • Certain cancers
  • Infections from bacteria, parasites, or tuberculosis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Kidney disease
  • Lymph fluid leaking from the abdomen

Risk Factors

The risk of this problem is higher in people who have any of the health problems that cause ascites.

Symptoms

Problems may be:

  • A swollen belly
  • Belly pain
  • Lack of hunger
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Problems breathing
  • Heartburn

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. This may be enough to suspect ascites.

The tests may be done to find the cause:

Images of the abdomen may be taken. This can be done with:

Treatment

The underlying cause will need to be treated. The goal of treatment is to ease symptoms. Options are:

Dietary Changes

Dietary changes may need to be made, such as:

  • Limiting sodium to ease fluid buildup
  • Limiting fluids if sodium levels are too low
  • Avoiding alcohol, which can impair liver function

Medicine

Diuretic medicines cause the kidneys to pass more sodium and water in urine. They may be used with a low sodium diet.

Procedures

Excess fluid may need to be removed. This can be done with paracentesis. A hollow needle will be inserted in the abdomen to remove the fluid.

People who are not helped by these methods may need:

  • Surgery to direct blood away from the liver
  • A liver transplant

Prevention

The risk of this health problem may be lowered by treating or preventing the health problems that cause it.

RESOURCES:

American Liver Foundation
http://www.liverfoundation.org

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
http://www.niddk.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Liver Foundation
http://www.liver.ca

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

REFERENCES:

Ascites. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/ascites. Accessed August 17, 2021.

Ascites: A common problem in people with cirrhosis. American College of Gastroenterology website. Available at: http://patients.gi.org/topics/ascites. August 17, 2021.

Cirrhosis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/liver-disease/cirrhosis/Pages/facts.aspx. Accessed August 17, 2021.

Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board James Cornell, MD  Last Updated: 8/17/2021