Ascites is a condition that is categorized by accumulated fluid in the abdominal cavity, specifically in the space within the membranes that line the abdomen and the abdominal organs, or the peritoneal cavity. The most frequent cause of ascites is liver disease, such as cirrhosis of the liver. There are several other conditions however that are associated with ascites and could contribute to the development of the condition, including:
- Heart failure
- Kidney failure
- Portal vein thrombosis
- Liver cancer
- Ovarian cancer
Many patients that develop ascites experience swelling in their abdomen and ankles, shortness of breath and rapid weight gain. If you are experiencing these symptoms there are several tests that your physician may recommend in order to diagnose ascites, such as an ultrasound or CT scan.
The method of diagnosis depends largely on the amount of fluid that is present in your abdomen. In many situations you physician will opt to pursue a paracentesis exam, a test during which your doctor will remove fluid from your abdomen with the use of a small needle and local anesthesia. After the fluid is removed it will be sent to a laboratory to be evaluated and examined for abnormalities like infection of signs of cancer. This test also assists in the determination of the cause of your fluid buildup.
Other tests that your physician may use to diagnose ascites include:
- Kidney function test
- 24- hour urine collection
- Abdominal tap
- Bilirubin, coagulation, liver enzyme and serum protein tests
Ideally, ascites is treated in combination with the condition that caused the initial fluid buildup. Diuretics are often useful in the removal of fluid, and if an infection of any sort develops antibiotics are generally prescribed. Smaller dietary adjustments, such as reducing salt intake and eliminating alcohol are often helpful. If these treatment options do not fully treat the ascites, other options that may be available include a large volume paracentesis to remove large volumes of liquid via a tube, or a procedure called TIPS (transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt), under which your blood will be re-routed around your liver. If no treatment methods are successful in treating your ascites and you develop end-stage liver disease, a liver transplant may be required.