What to know about ascites (excess abdominal fluid)

Ascites Ascites results from cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver. Fluid builds up and causes swelling, often in the legs and ankles. Casa nayafana/Shutterstock
Ascites Ascites results from cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver. Fluid builds up and causes swelling, often in the legs and ankles. Casa nayafana/Shutterstock

A buildup of fluid in the abdomen is known as ascites. When the liver isn’t functioning properly, this can happen. Swelling and pain can occur when fluid fills the area between the organs and the abdominal lining.

Cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver, causes ascites, which is a common symptom.

When fluid builds up in the belly, a person may feel bloated and uneasy. Shortness of breath might be caused by the fluid pressing on the lungs.

A doctor can treat ascites with lifestyle changes, diuretics, and antibiotics, depending on the etiology of the condition. In some circumstances, they may need to use a needle to drain the fluid.

Read on to learn more about what causes ascites, as well as common symptoms, treatment options, and more.


  • Ascites An ultrasound can identify the excess fluid, which a healthcare professional can then remove.  Protonic Ltd/Stocksy
  • Ascites Ascites can also cause fluid to build up in the abdomen, leading to a distended appearance. This causes pain and trouble breathing, and it can lead to severe complications.  Zay Nyi Nyi/Shutterstock
  • Ascites Ascites results from cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver. Fluid builds up and causes swelling, often in the legs and ankles.  Casa nayafana/Shutterstock

The medical word for a buildup of fluid in the abdomen is ascites.

When the blood pressure in the portal vein — which goes from the digestive organs to the liver — becomes too high, it might cause this. As a result of the increased pressure, kidney and liver function is impaired, leading fluid to collect.

People with liver disease or cirrhosis are 80 percent more likely to develop the condition.


Swelling in the abdomen from too much fluid can make it feel tight and painful.

Ascites symptoms might appear over a period of weeks or even days. While the edema may appear small at first, it can quickly worsen.

Among the signs and symptoms are:

Causes of ascites

The most prevalent cause of ascites is cirrhosis, or liver scarring.

Other possible causes include:

Ascites vs. belly fat

Although ascites and belly fat may appear to be the same thing, a doctor will be able to tell the two apart.

Ascites and fat have different movements and sensations. When a person is lying down or standing, a doctor can examine their abdomen. The contour of the abdomen may indicate that it is fluid-filled rather than fat-filled.

A person with ascites may also have a bloated, firm, and swollen abdomen. They may also have rapid weight and body form changes. These changes occur at a far faster rate than a person’s body fat mass generally increases.

Is ascites a life-threatening condition?

Ascites, in most situations, is not life threatening. However, the cause could be a more serious condition, such as liver failure, which could be fatal.

The death rate for people with ascites as a consequence of cirrhosis ranges from 15% in one year to 44% in five years.

If ascites is not treated, it can lead to serious consequences. They could, for example, get an infection in the fluid in their abdomen. If not handled appropriately, this can be dangerous.

Ascites treatment and management

Ascites can be treated in a number of ways. A doctor will determine which solutions are ideal for a patient’s condition.

Reduction of sodium

A doctor will most likely recommend that a person’s sodium intake be limited. In general, they should limit their salt intake to fewer than 2000 mg per day.


Diuretics, also known as water tablets, help a lot of people with ascites. These aid in the removal of excess fluid from the body, hence lowering edema.

Common diuretics like furosemide (Lasix) and spironolactone may be prescribed by a doctor (Aldactone).


A doctor or medical expert performs a basic technique called paracentesis. To remove extra fluid, a needle is inserted into the abdomen.

A doctor may take a small sample of fluid for testing if they suspect an illness. A doctor will, however, remove a bigger amount of fluid if a person has a lot of swelling.


A shunt may be inserted by a doctor to drain the fluid that has accumulated due to ascites.

They will numb and clean the area first. Then a long needle will be carefully inserted into the vein to open it. They will implant a tube from the neck to the abdomen after creating a minor incision in the chest area.

Diagnosis of ascites

The amount of fluid in a person’s abdomen determines the diagnosis. Physical examination is frequently used by doctors to diagnose ascites.

An ultrasound or CT scan of the abdomen may be used to confirm the diagnosis.

A doctor would usually take a sample of the fluid by putting a small needle into the abdomen wall while under local anaesthesia, withdrawing some fluid, and sending it to be tested.

To discover the cause of the fluid buildup, doctors will test the fluid for symptoms of cancer and infection.


The cause of ascites has an impact on a person’s outlook. Antibiotics can be used to treat an infection that causes ascites in a person.

Paracentesis and shunts can help most people with ascites from cirrhosis improve their quality of life. They will, however, almost certainly not improve their chances of survival. Instead, they assist in the management of the condition while a person awaits a liver transplant.


A buildup of fluid in the abdomen is known as ascites. It is usually seen as a side effect of liver disease.

Bloating, indigestion, constipation, and shortness of breath are among symptoms. Medications can be used to treat it.


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  • https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/coping/physically/fluid-abdomen-ascites/about