Ascites is the buildup of excess fluid in the abdominal cavity.
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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
- Kidney disease
- Lymph fluid leaking from the abdomen
The risk of this problem is higher in people who have any of the health problems that cause ascites.
Problems may be:
- A swollen belly
- Belly pain
- Lack of hunger
- Rapid weight gain
- Problems breathing
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:
The underlying cause will need to be treated. The goal of treatment is to ease symptoms. Options are:
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
Diuretic medicines cause the kidneys to pass more sodium and water in urine. They may be used with a low sodium diet.
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
The risk of this health problem may be lowered by treating or preventing the health problems that cause it.
American Liver Foundation http://www.liverfoundation.org
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases http://www.niddk.nih.gov
Canadian Liver Foundation http://www.liver.ca
Health Canada https://www.canada.ca
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.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board James Cornell, MD
- Review Date: 07/2021
- Update Date: 08/17/2021