What is ascites?
Ascites is a condition that occurs when fluid collects in spaces in your belly
(abdomen). If severe, it may be painful. The problem may keep you from moving around
comfortably. Ascites can set the stage for an infection in your abdomen. Fluid may also
move into your chest and surround your lungs. This makes it hard to breathe.
What causes ascites?
The most common cause of ascites is cirrhosis of the liver. Drinking too much alcohol is one of the most common causes of cirrhosis of the liver.
Different types of cancer can also cause this condition. Ascites caused by cancer most
often occurs with advanced or recurrent cancer. Ascites may also be caused by other
problems such as heart conditions, dialysis, low protein levels, and infection.
What are the symptoms of ascites?
Symptoms of ascites include:
How is ascites diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will do a physical exam and ask about your symptoms. You may also have tests such as:
sample. A sample of fluid from your belly may be taken using a needle. This
fluid will be checked for signs of disease, such as cancer or an infection. This test
may help point to the cause of the ascites.
Your healthcare provider may request images of the inside of your abdomen using
ultrasound, MRI, or a CT scan. An MRI creates images using a magnetics and radio
waves. A CT scan creates detailed computer images using X-rays.
How is ascites treated?
A number of steps may help ease your ascites. Your healthcare provider may tell you to:
your salt intake. Your healthcare provider or a dietitian can show you how to follow
a low-sodium diet. Don't use salt substitutes that contain potassium. This is because
some medicines used in treating ascites can cause your potassium levels to rise.
the amount of fluids you drink.
Stop drinking alcohol.
Take diuretic medicines to help reduce the fluid in your body.
certain cases, your provider may need to remove large amounts of fluid from your
abdomen through a needle. This may be done if you have trouble breathing or the
diuretic is not working.
complex cases, you may need to have a procedure called TIPS. In this procedure, a
connection is made inside the liver between the blood vessels. This eases the high
pressure that causes ascites.
What are possible complications of
Ascites can make eating, drinking, and moving around difficult. It can also make it
hard to breathe. Ascites can lead to abdominal infections, which may cause kidney
failure. It can also cause umbilical or inguinal hernias. Don't take NSAID pain
relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen if you have liver disease with ascites. These
medicines can cause problems such as kidney failure.
Can ascites be prevented?
Certain steps to help you prevent cirrhosis of the liver and cancer can also prevent
ascites. These include:
a healthy weight.
safe sex to reduce your chance of getting hepatitis.
use recreational drugs to reduce your chance of getting hepatitis.
Living with ascites
Follow your healthcare provider's advice for lowering your salt intake. You'll need to
do this even if you're taking diuretic medicines to reduce fluid in your body. Also
weigh yourself daily. Call your healthcare provider if you gain too much weight.
Ask your provider if you can take NSAIDs for pain. These include
ibuprofen and naproxen. Also ask if you can take acetaminophen.
Key points about ascites
occurs when fluid collects in spaces in your belly (abdomen).
fluid collects in the belly, it can affect your lungs, kidneys, and other
causes belly pain, swelling, nausea, vomiting, and other problems.
things that help prevent cirrhosis of the liver and cancer can also prevent ascites.
This includes not drinking alcohol, staying at a healthy weight, exercising, not
smoking, and limiting salt intake.
can’t be cured. But lifestyle changes and treatments may decrease complications.
to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to
Before your visit, write down questions you want
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember
what your provider tells you.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any
new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your
provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how
it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the
results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have
the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date,
time, and purpose for that visit.
Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.
Online Medical Reviewer:
L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer:
Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer:
Ronald Karlin MD
Date Last Reviewed:
© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.