Ascites is the buildup of excess fluid in the abdominal cavity.
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Ascites can be caused by:
High blood pressure in the liver's portal venous system, which can be caused by:
Liver damage called
cirrhosis (most common cause)Heart failureBlockage of the large vein in the abdomen called the vena cavaMalnutrition or other conditions leading to low amounts of protein in the bloodCertain cancers
Infections, such as certain bacteria and parasites, or
that can invade the abdomen
PancreatitisKidney diseaseAbdominal leakage of lymph fluid
Factors that may increase your chance of ascites include having any of the conditions above.
Symptoms may include: Increased abdominal girthShortness of breathAbdominal pain and/or distentionPain
abdomenRapid weight gainDifficulty breathing while lying flatDecreased appetiteHeartburn
Some treatments will vary according to what is causing the ascites. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Some options include:
Sodium restriction—Limiting salt intake to
2,000 mg (milligrams)
per day or fewer is often recommended to reduce or delay fluid buildup. More extreme restrictions in salt intake do not help.Fluid restriction—If sodium level is too low.
Alcohol restriction—Ascites commonly occurs in people who have liver disease.
Consuming excess alcohol
can further impair liver function. Stopping alcohol use may limit the progression of ascites.
Diuretic medications cause the kidneys to excrete more sodium and water in the urine. These medications are often recommended as the treatment of choice for ascites, along with sodium restriction.
Ascites can be treated by inserting a hollow needle into the abdomen and removing excess fluid through the needle.
If the other treatments are not effective and the ascites keep coming back, surgery can be done to divert blood away from the liver.
If this is not successful, a liver transplant may be necessary.
To help reduce the chance of ascites: Drink alcohol only in moderation. This means no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 per day for men.Practice safe sex to avoid hepatitis.Do not share IV needles.Get vaccinated for hepatitis B.If you are taking medications that can damage your liver, follow your doctor's instructions closely.
Ascites: A common problem in people with cirrhosis. American College of Gastroenterology website. Available at: http://patients.gi.org/topics/ascites. Updated July 2013. Accessed February 22, 2016.
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. Updated April 2014. Accessed February 22, 2016.
Last reviewed February 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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