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    Portal hypertension - ascites

    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.

    Diseases that can cause severe liver damagecan lead to ascites. These include long-term hepatitis C or B infectionand alcohol abuseover many years.

    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:

    • 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 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 failuremay also be present.

    Exams and Tests

    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:

    • 24-hour urine collection
    • Electrolyte levels
    • Kidney function tests
    • Liver function tests
    • Tests to measure the risk of bleeding and protein levels in the blood
    • Urinalysis
    • Abdominal ultrasound

    Your doctor may also use a thin needleto 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:

    Lifestyle changes

    • Avoiding alcohol
    • Lowering salt in your diet (no more than 1,500 mg/day of sodium)
    • Limiting fluid intake

    Medicines from your doctor

    • "Water pills" (diuretics) to get rid of extra fluid
    • Antibiotics for infections


    • Inserting a tube into the belly to remove large volumes of fluid (called a paracentesis)
    • Placing a special tube or shuntinside your belly (TIPS) to repair blood flow to the liver
    People with end-stage liver disease may needa liver transplant.

    Possible Complications

    • Spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (a life-threatening infection of the ascites fluid)
    • Hepatorenal syndrome (kidney failure)
    • Weight loss and protein malnutrition
    • Mental confusion, change in the level of alertness, or coma (hepatic encephalopathy)
    • Other complications of liver cirrhosis

    When to Contact a Medical Professional

    If you have ascites, call your health care provider right away if you have:

    • Feverabove100.5F, or a fever that does not go away
    • Belly pain
    • Blood in your stool or black, tarry stools
    • Blood in your vomit
    • Bruising or bleeding that occurs more easily
    • Build up of fluid in your belly
    • Swollen legs or ankles
    • Breathing problems
    • Confusion or problems staying awake
    • Yellow color in your skin and whites of your eyes (jaundice)


    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.


    • Ascites with ovarian can...


    • Digestive system organs


      • Ascites with ovarian can...


      • Digestive system organs


      A Closer Look

        Tests for Ascites

          Review Date: 11/16/2012

          Reviewed 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.

          The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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