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Ascites and Liver Disease

Overview

Ascites is the buildup of fluid in the abdomen. The extra fluid can cause your belly to swell and make it hard to breathe. Ascites can be a complication of other health problems, such as liver disease and some cancers.

How is ascites treated?

Treatment for ascites may include eating a low-salt diet, taking medicines, and having paracentesis therapy.

Low-salt diet

You may need to reduce your sodium intake by eating less salt. You'll feel better and will lower your risk of complications.

Sodium adds to the problem of ascites by causing your body to retain water. It increases fluid buildup in your belly as well as your legs and lungs. Aside from being uncomfortable, this fluid buildup can lead to trouble breathing, infection, and other problems.

Limiting sodium in your diet helps prevent your body from retaining extra fluid. Eating less sodium doesn't have to be hard, but you do have to think about it. Salt is in many foods, so limiting your salt intake means more than just not using the salt shaker. Packaged (processed) foods and restaurant foods are usually quite high in salt.

You may want to visit with a dietitian to help you get started or to find more ways to cut down on salt and eat a healthy diet.

Medicines

Diuretic medicines, such as spironolactone and furosemide, can help get rid of fluid that has built up in the belly and other parts of the body. These medicines can help both prevent and treat problems with ascites. Your doctor may prescribe a diuretic for you to take over the long term.

Paracentesis

Paracentesis is a procedure used to collect and remove some of the fluid to help determine what is causing it to build up. Having ascites may lead to:

  • Extreme discomfort, including belly pain and trouble breathing.
  • Infection of the ascitic fluid (spontaneous bacterial peritonitis).
  • Increased fluid buildup in the chest cavity (pleural effusion).
  • Abdominal wall hernias, especially umbilical hernias. An umbilical hernia occurs when tissue from inside the abdomen bulges out through a weak spot in the navel.

Paracentesis therapy may be used if you:

  • Have severe ascites that is causing extreme discomfort, including belly pain and trouble breathing (tense ascites). A one-time paracentesis treatment may relieve the discomfort of tense ascites before you begin treatment with one or more diuretics.
  • Have not responded to standard treatment with diuretic medicine and a low-salt diet.

Credits

Current as of: June 6, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
W. Thomas London MD - Hepatology

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