What is ascites?

The increased pressure of portal hypertension causes fluid to seep out and pool in the abdominal cavity. This is called ascites.

People with liver disease may experience different amounts of fluid buildup – a little buildup of fluid may not cause any symptoms but as the amount of fluid increases it can cause waist size to expand and weight gain. When large amounts of fluid gather in the belly it can lead to swelling and pain and be very uncomfortable. The belly becomes hard from the fluid buildup, may resemble a pregnancy belly and the belly button can become pushed out. Some people with ascites may develop swollen legs and ankles, called edema. Ascites can become infected for no reason which is called spontaneous bacterial peritonitisThis infection needs to be treated early with the right antibiotics. If left untreated the infection can be fatal. This infection can also greatly impact the function of your kidney. Someone with spontaneous bacterial peritonitis will usually feel even more uncomfortable and experience tenderness in their abdomen and may develop a fever.

How is ascites treated?

Ascites is treated with a low-sodium diet, medications called diuretics, removing the fluid, or surgery to reroute blood flow. Reducing sodium, or salt, is a first line therapy for ascites. If you have ascites, be sure to learn more from a nutritionist who specializes in the liver about your unique needs. Medications called diuretics may be prescribed which make the kidneys excrete more sodium and water into your urine, causing you to pee more frequently. Sometimes, diuretics are not enough, and the fluid will continue to build up. When this happens, someone may have a procedure called therapeutic paracentesisDuring paracentesis, a doctor, usually an interventional radiologist, uses ultrasound to guide a needle into the abdomen and drain the fluid out of the body. The fluid will build back up and the procedure will need to be repeated. If someone continues to have fluid build-up or other treatments do not work, a doctor may consider a TIPS procedure (transjuglar intrahepatic portosystemic shunt). During a TIPS procedure, a new pathway is made to connect the portal vein, or one of its branches, with a vein in general circulation, bypassing the liver. While this shunt placement can improve ascites, it can also cause a worsening in hepatic encephalopathy or in liver function.

Living with Ascites

Search for a Clinical Trial

Clinical trials are research studies that test how well new medical approaches work in people. Before an experimental treatment can be tested on human subjects in a clinical trial, it must have shown benefit in laboratory testing or animal research studies. The most promising treatments are then moved into clinical trials, with the goal of identifying new ways to safely and effectively prevent, screen for, diagnose, or treat a disease.

Speak with your doctor about the ongoing progress and results of these trials to get the most up-to-date information on new treatments. Participating in a clinical trial is a great way to contribute to curing, preventing and treating liver disease and its complications.

Additional Clinical Trials

Start your search here to find additional clinical trials that are looking for participants.

The American Liver Foundation receives contributions and funding from clinical trial and study sponsors but does not evaluate or endorse any clinical trials or studies, and is not affiliated with any of the sponsors.

Last updated on March 23rd, 2023 at 11:03 am

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