Ascites, also known as ascitic fluid or just ascites, is an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the abdomen. It is most commonly associated with cirrhosis, cancer, and other conditions that affect the liver. During the disease process, the abdomen may become enlarged and feel squishy when you touch it.
This abnormal accumulation of fluid can interfere with your body’s normal functioning and can cause a wide range of problems such as shortness of breath or difficulty sleeping. Ascites can lead to liver failure if it’s not treated properly and if left untreated it has a high mortality rate.
What is ascites?
Ascites are a collection of abnormal fluids (called ascitic fluid) in the peritoneal cavity, which is located just outside the abdominal cavity and beneath the lining that covers all internal organs. The most common cause for this condition is cancer, cirrhosis, or another chronic liver disease, but it can also be caused by digestive disorders such as pancreatitis, ascariasis, and cholangitis or after surgery to remove gallstones.
Causes of ascites
There are many causes of this condition, but it can be difficult to know for sure what's going on without proper testing and evaluation. Some common causes include digestive disorders, liver or kidney disease, congestive heart failure, and cirrhosis of the liver due to alcoholism or viral hepatitis B or C.
If you have ascites, your doctor will do a physical examination including a focused abdominal exam (rectal exam) to look for any abnormalities with your internal organs. They may also do a CT scan or ultrasound to assess the extent of your disease and monitor how much fluid is accumulating.
Symptoms of ascites
The most common symptom of ascites is a stomach that is stretched tight with fluid and moves like an accordion when touched. Less common symptoms are pain and difficulty breathing, which may be caused by a build-up of pressure around the heart or lungs. Other causes of this condition include congestive heart failure, cirrhosis, pancreatitis, kidney disease, or cancer.
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Risk factors for ascites
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Portal hypertension
- Congestive heart failure (if ascites occurs on just one side of your body)
- Oesophageal varices Rupture of blood vessels at the top part of the stomach caused by cirrhosis.
- Pancreatitis: Inflammation of the pancreas.
- Kidney disease and kidney failure may cause ascites as well as congestive heart failure, which is also called CHF or congestive cardiac failure. These conditions usually have other symptoms such as cough, wheezing, and breathing difficulties.
- Ascites can sometimes occur with small bowel obstruction where a blockage has prevented the contents from passing through the small intestine to be passed out of the body through stool or gas called flatus.
- Other causes of ascites are complications during pregnancy such as pre-eclampsia and eclampsia that develop when a pregnant woman's blood pressure becomes too high.
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Prevention of ascites
Ascites is an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity, which may occur with liver disease or other conditions. It can lead to serious complications such as infection and pressure on the heart, lungs, and kidneys. It is a sign of a serious illness that requires prompt medical attention by a physician who specializes in treating liver disease (hepatologist). Ascites stomach is often treated with diuretics and surgical drainage, when appropriate. In some cases, it is recommended to reduce salt intake, weight loss, and protein restriction. Alcohol consumption should be limited due to its high sodium content.
Steps that can be taken to manage this condition.
There are a few things that can be done to manage ascites or the abnormal accumulation of fluid in the abdomen. These include things like maintaining a healthy weight and eating healthy foods, removing any constrictive clothing, and staying hydrated with water or juices. Here are some other tips for people who suffer from this condition:
- Consume smaller meals but frequently throughout the day;
- Eat slowly so your stomach has time to adjust; drink plenty of fluids, but avoid drinks with caffeine and alcohol as they will dehydrate you even further.
- Maintain a healthy body weight as obesity and even being overweight can lead to developing ascites.
- Exercise regularly, which can help the movement of lymphatic fluid; consult your doctor about exercises that you can do to alleviate swelling and elevate your legs when sitting or lying down.
- Avoid foods high in salt and eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables instead (they're low in sodium);
If your ascites have been diagnosed due to cirrhosis, you need to discuss with your doctor options like liver transplant and medications that can be taken to slow down progression or even help reverse it.
Consult a Gastroenterologist (Stomach, Liver & Digestive Tract Specialist) on The Wellness Corner.
It is important to know the symptoms and causes of ascites because early treatment can help prevent complications. Ascites can be caused by cirrhosis, congestive heart failure, or pancreatitis among others, so you must keep an eye out for the symptoms if any arise. If left untreated, ascites can lead to sepsis and even death, so it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible if you are experiencing any signs.