Ascites: Symptoms & Signs

Medically Reviewed on 11/17/2020

Ascites is the accumulation of fluid within the peritoneal cavity of the abdomen. It is not a disease by itself but is caused by a number of different conditions.

Signs and symptoms of ascites include

  • an enlarged, distended, or swollen abdomen;
  • sudden weight gain;
  • difficulty breathing when lying down; and
  • a diminished appetite.

Other associated signs and symptoms can include

Migration of the fluid across the diaphragm can lead to associated pleural effusions (fluid in the spaces around the lungs).

Causes of ascites

Causes of ascites can include abdominal cancers, cirrhosis of the liver due to any cause, advanced kidney failure, or congestive heart failure. Advanced liver disease is the most common cause of ascites.

Other ascites symptoms and signs

  • Abdominal Pain
  • Bloating
  • Difficulty Breathing When Lying Down
  • Diminished Appetite
  • Enlarged, Distended, or Swollen Abdomen
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Sudden Weight Gain


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Jameson, J. Larry, et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 20th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2018.