Get exclusive member benefits & effect social change. Join Today
When fluid builds up inside the abdomen, it is known as ascites. Ascites usually occurs when the liver stops working properly. Fluid fills the space between the lining of the abdomen and the organs.
People with cirrhotic ascites have a two-year survival rate of approximately 50 percent. If you experience ascites symptoms, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
Ascites is most often caused by liver scarring. This increases pressure inside the liver’s blood vessels. The increased pressure can force fluid into the abdominal cavity, causing ascites.
Liver damage is the single biggest risk factor for ascites. Some causes of liver damage include:
Other conditions that may increase your risk of ascites include:
Symptoms of ascites can appear either slowly or suddenly, depending on the cause of the fluid buildup.
Symptoms don’t always signal an emergency, but you should talk to your doctor if you experience the following:
Keep in mind that ascites symptoms may be caused by other conditions.
Diagnosing ascites takes multiple steps. Your doctor will first check for swelling in your abdomen. Then they’ll probably use imaging or another testing method to look for fluid, including:
Treatment for ascites depends on what’s causing your condition.
Diuretics are commonly used to treat this condition. They increase the amount of salt and water leaving your body to reduce pressure within the veins around the liver.
While you’re on diuretics, your doctor may want to monitor your blood chemistry. You’ll probably need to reduce your alcohol use and salt intake.
This procedure uses a thin, long needle to remove the excess fluid. It’s inserted through the skin and into the abdominal cavity. There is risk of infection, so people who undergo paracentesis may be prescribed antibiotics.
This treatment is used most commonly when the ascites is severe or recurrent. Diuretics don’t work as well in such late-stage cases.
In extreme cases, a permanent tube called a shunt is implanted in the body. It reroutes blood flow around the liver.
Your doctor may recommend liver transplant if ascites does not respond to treatment. This is generally used for end-stage liver disease.
Ascites can’t be prevented. However, you can lower your risk by protecting your liver with these healthy habits:
Written by: Carmella Wint and Elizabeth Boskey, PhD
Medically reviewed on: Sep 23, 2015: Steven Kim, MD
Enter your symptoms in our Symptom Checker to find out possible causes of your symptoms. Go.
Enter any list of prescription drugs and see how they interact with each other and with other substances. Go.
Enter its color and shape information, and this tool helps you identify it. Go.
Find information on drug interactions, side effects, and more. Go.