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Ascites

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Other names:Portal hypertension - ascites; Cirrhosis - ascites; Liver failure - ascites; Alcohol use - ascites; End-stage liver disease - ascites; ESLD - ascites

Ascites is the build-up of fluid in the space between the lining of the abdomen and abdominal organs.

A man with ascites.jpg
Ascites Fluid Cytology.JPG

Causes and riskfactors

Ascites results from high pressure in the blood vessels of the liver (portal hypertension) and low levels of a protein called albumin.

Diseases that can cause severe liver damage can lead to ascites. These include:

  • Chronic hepatitis C or B infection
  • Alcohol abuse over many years
  • Fatty liver disease (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH)
  • People with certain cancers in the abdomen may develop ascites. These include cancer of the appendix, colon, ovaries, uterus, pancreas, and liver.

Other conditions that can cause this problem include:

  • Clots in the veins of the liver (portal vein thrombosis)
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Pancreatitis
  • Thickening and scarring of the sac-like covering of the heart (pericarditis)
  • Kidney dialysis may also be linked to ascites.

Symptoms

Symptoms may develop slowly or suddenly depending on the cause of ascites. You may have no symptoms if there is only a small amount of fluid in the belly.

As more fluid collects, you may have abdominal pain and bloating. Large amounts of fluid can cause shortness of breath. Many other symptoms of liver failure may also be present.

Diagnosis

Ascites ultrasound 2.JPG

Your doctor will do a physical exam to determine the amount of swelling in your belly.

You may also have the following tests to assess your liver and kidneys:

  • 24-hour urine collection
  • Electrolyte levels
  • Kidney function tests
  • Liver function tests
  • Tests to measure the risk of bleeding and protein levels in the blood
  • Urinalysis
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Your doctor may also use a thin needle to withdraw ascites fluid from your belly. The fluid is tested to look for the cause of ascites and to check if the fluid is infected.

Treatment

The condition that causes ascites will be treated, if possible.

Treatments for fluid build-up may include lifestyle changes:

  • Avoiding alcohol
  • Lowering salt in your diet (no more than 1,500 mg/day of sodium)
  • Limiting fluid intake

You may also get medicines from your doctor, including:

Other things you can do to help take care of your liver disease are:

Procedures that you may have are:

  • Inserting a needle into the belly to remove large volumes of fluid (called a paracentesis)
  • Placing a special tube or shunt inside your liver (TIPS) to repair blood flow to the liver
  • People with end-stage liver disease may need a liver transplant.

If you have cirrhosis, avoid taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn). Acetaminophen should be taken in reduced doses.


NIH genetic and rare disease info

Ascites is a rare disease.

Latest research - Ascites

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