What Do Ascites Feel Like?

Medically Reviewed on 3/2/2022
What Do Ascites Feel Like?
Ascites can exert pressure on the abdomen, making it feel bloated and causing abdominal discomfort.

Ascites can manifest in various ways depending on their severity. People with mild ascites may have a normal-looking abdomen, whereas those with severe ascites may have a swollen or distended abdomen:

  • Ascites can exert pressure on the abdomen, making it feel bloated
  • Increasing pressure on adjacent organs may cause abdominal discomfort as the abdomen grows larger

Ascites are the accumulation of fluid between the lining of the abdomen and abdominal organs. Depending on the origin of ascites, symptoms may appear gradually or quickly.

16 signs and symptoms of ascites

If there is only a small amount of fluid, you may not experience any symptoms. As more fluid accumulates, you may experience 16 signs and symptoms of ascites that include:

  1. A general feeling of increased abdominal pressure
  2. Abdominal pain
  3. Distended abdomen
  4. Bloating
  5. Fatigue
  6. Shortness of breath
  7. Swelling in the abdomen
  8. Weight gain
  9. Sense of heaviness
  10. Nausea
  11. Indigestion
  12. Vomiting
  13. Swelling in the lower legs
  14. Reduced appetite
  15. Constipation
  16. Hemorrhoids

Sometimes, the fluid in your stomach becomes infected, resulting in fever and other infection-related symptoms. Ascites are a serious condition that necessitates prompt treatment.

What are the common causes of ascites?

Ascites are caused by excessive blood pressure in the liver's veins (portal hypertension) that leads to impaired liver function.

Diseases that can cause severe liver damage, called cirrhosis, can lead to ascites, which include:

Cirrhosis is caused by genetic diseases. People with certain types of cancer in the abdomen may develop ascites. These include cancer of the following organs:

  • Appendix
  • Colon
  • Ovaries
  • Uterus
  • Pancreas
  • Liver

Other conditions that can cause this problem include:

Ascites, if left untreated, can result in kidney failure, pleural effusion (fluid accumulation in the lungs), hernias, and bacterial infection.


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6 treatment options for ascites

The purpose of treatment is to alleviate unpleasant symptoms and treat the underlying cause.

Ascites therapy possibilities include:

  1. Diet changes:
    • Eating less salt and drinking liquids in limitation may assist with mild discomfort.
    • Making dietary adjustments might be difficult for many people. Consult with your doctor about how to implement these adjustments.
  2. Diuretics:
    • A diuretic is a drug that causes you to urinate more frequently. This can aid in reducing the amount of fluid in your abdomen.
    • The majority of people do not have adverse effects with diuretics. However, diuretics can cause sleep disturbances, skin issues, exhaustion, and low blood pressure.
  3. Paracentesis:
    • Paracentesis is a procedure used to drain fluid from the abdomen.
    • It is used to diagnose the cause of ascites.
    • A doctor inserts a needle attached to a tube into the abdomen. The fluid flows through the needle and into the tubing.
    • Fluid accumulation frequently returns following paracentesis.
    • The doctor may elect to do another paracentesis treatment.
  4. Catheter:
    • A catheter can be used to drain fluid. It is a thin plastic tube that is inserted into your abdomen to drain the fluid.
    • At home, you or your family members can use the catheter to regularly drain the fluid into a bottle as instructed by your healthcare team.
    • Occasionally, it may be recommended that a catheter be inserted inside the body to bypass or divert fluid from the abdomen into another part of the body. This is called a shunt or a peritoneovenous shunt.
  5. Treating cancer:
    • Ascites symptoms can be relieved by surgery or chemotherapy used to treat cancer.
  6. Managing discomfort:
    • Even after therapy, issues caused by ascites can reoccur.
    • Your doctor can assist you in managing your discomfort by treating issues such as leg edema (swelling), constipation, nausea, and breathing difficulties.

To avoid the development of ascites, you should monitor any rapid weight gain. Limit or eliminate alcohol use and take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or aspirin. Doctors may advise a few lifestyle changes as part of preventive methods.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/2/2022
Image Source: iStock Images

Ascites: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14792-ascites

Ascites: A Common Problem in People with Cirrhosis: https://gi.org/topics/ascites/

Ascites: https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/a/ascites.html