Ascites is the build up of fluid in the space between the lining of the abdomen and abdominal organs (the peritoneal cavity).
Ascites results from high pressure in the blood vessels of the liver (portal hypertension) and low levels of a protein called albumin.
People with certain cancers in the abdomen may develop ascites. These include cancer of the colon, ovaries, uterus, pancreas, and liver.
Other conditions that can cause this problem include:
Kidney dialysis may also be associated with ascites.
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.
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:
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.
The condition that causes ascites will be treated, if possible.
Treatments for fluid build-up may include:
Medicines from your doctor
If you have ascites, call your health care provider right away if you have:
Portal hypertension - ascites
Runyon BA; AASLD Practice Guidelines Committee. Management of adult patients with ascites due to cirrhosis: an update. Hepatology. 2009;49(6):2087-2107.
Mehta G, Rothstein KD. Health maintenance issues in cirrhosis.Med Clin North Am. 2009;93:901-915.
Garcia-Tsao G. Cirrhosis and its sequelae. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds.Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 156.
Updated by: George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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