Buildup of fluid between the abdomen and abdominal organs

Ascites is a fluid buildup in the space between the lining of the abdomen and abdominal organs. Several conditions can lead to ascites, including:

  • Long-term hepatitis C or B infection
  • Alcohol abuse resulting in cirrhosis and other liver diseases
  • Abdominal cancers, including that of the colon, ovaries, uterus, pancreas and liver
  • 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
  • Kidney dialysis

Depending upon the cause, symptoms may develop slowly or quickly. You may even be asymptomatic (without symptoms) if you have a small amount of fluid in the belly. However, as more fluid collects, you may experience abdominal pain and bloating, and with large amounts, shortness of breath.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will examine you to determine the amount of abdominal swelling. You may also undergo one or more of the following tests:

  • Kidney function
  • Liver function
  • 24-hour urine collection
  • Urinalysis
  • Measuring electrolyte levels
  • Evaluation of the risk of bleeding and protein levels in the blood
  • Abdominal ultrasound

Your doctor may also perform a biopsy to withdraw fluid from your stomach. The fluid is then tested to look for the cause of ascites.

Treatment

Treatment may depend on the cause and for fluid buildup, may include:

  • Avoiding alcohol
  • Lowering salt/sodium intake to no more than 1,500 mg/day
  • Limiting fluids

Your physician may also prescribe diuretics (water pills) to help your body get rid of unneeded water and salt through the urine. You may also receive antibiotics for infection.

Procedures may include:

  • Inserting a tube through the stomach to remove large volumes of fluid (paracentesis)
  • Inserting a transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS), a special tube to repair blood flow to the liver and create new connections between two blood vessels in your liver
  • A liver transplant for people with end-stage liver disease

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