Ascites

  • Medical Author:
    Siamak N. Nabili, MD, MPH

    Dr. Nabili received his undergraduate degree from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), majoring in chemistry and biochemistry. He then completed his graduate degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). His graduate training included a specialized fellowship in public health where his research focused on environmental health and health-care delivery and management.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

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What are the complications of ascites?

Some complications of ascites can be related to its amount. The accumulation of fluid may cause breathing difficulties by compressing the diaphragm or forming a pleural effusion.

Infections are another serious complication of ascites. In patients with ascites related to portal hypertension, bacteria from the gut may spontaneously invade the peritoneal fluid (ascites) and cause an infection. This is called spontaneous bacterial peritonitis or SBP. Antibodies are rare in ascites and, therefore, the immune response in the ascitic fluid is very limited. The diagnosis of SBP is made by performing a paracentesis and analyzing the fluid for the number of white blood cells or evidence of bacterial growth.

Hepatorenal syndrome is a rare, but serious and potentially deadly (average survival rates range from 2 weeks to about 3 months) complication of ascites related to cirrhosis of the liver leading to progressive kidney failure. The exact mechanism of this syndrome is not well known, but it may result from shifts in fluids, impaired blood flow to the kidneys, overuse of diuretics, and administration of IV contrasts for certain types of radiological studies like CT scans or drugs that may be harmful to the kidney.

Can ascites be prevented?

The prevention of ascites largely involves preventing the risk factors of the underlying conditions leading to ascites.

In patients with known advanced liver disease and cirrhosis of any cause, avoidance of alcohol intake can markedly reduce the risk of forming ascites. Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (ibuprofen [Advil, Motrin, etc.]) should also be limited in patients with cirrhosis as they may diminish the blood flow to the kidneys, thus, limiting the salt and water excretion. Complying with dietary salt restrictions is also another simple preventive measure to reduce ascites.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/24/2016
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