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Ascites is a buildup of fluid in the abdominal cavity.
People with ascites often have painful swelling of the belly. It can be a sign that your liver disease is getting worse.
Cirrhosis of the liver is the main cause of ascites. More than 50% of people with cirrhosis develop ascites within 10 years of their liver disease diagnosis.
But sometimes people with congestive heart failure, hepatitis, or cancer get ascites.
Cirrhosis or other advanced liver disease causes scarring that makes it hard for the liver to filter the blood.
Since blood can't easily flow on its normal path into the liver, pressure builds up in the blood vessels nearby. This causes high blood pressure, known as portal hypertension, around the liver.
The fluid that the liver would normally filter builds up and moves into other parts of the body. This fluid often collects in the abdominal cavity.
There may be a small amount of fluid, or there may be enough to cause the belly to swell painfully.
Liver damage is the biggest risk factor for ascites.
Problems that cause liver damage include:
Some other conditions that increase your risk for ascites are:
Having ascites makes it likely you'll have other complications of liver disease, such as:
The only sure way to prevent ascites is to keep your liver healthy.
If you have liver disease, you can prevent further damage by:
Complications of liver disease can progress fast.
The doctors at the UPMC Center for Liver Diseases are experts at treating cirrhosis of the liver, ascites, and other complications.
UPMC has the latest in cutting-edge technologies and research in liver disease. And we're home to one of the oldest and most experienced liver transplant centers in the country.
The signs of ascites can form slowly or come on fast. If there's only a small amount of fluid in the belly, you may not have any symptoms.
As the build-up of fluid increases, you may have symptoms such as:
Your doctor will do a physical exam and ask you about your health history, chiefly your liver disease.
They may order the following tests to confirm an ascites diagnosis:
Ascites is a serious complication of liver disease. Your doctor will want to treat it as early as possible with these methods.
Reducing your salt (sodium) intake is the first step in treating ascites.
Salt causes you to retain water, which can add to fluid buildup in the belly.
Your doctor may prescribe diuretics or water pills.
Water pills can:
Sometimes reducing salt in your diet and taking water pills aren't enough. You may need surgery or another type of treatment.
Types of procedures to treat ascites include: