Fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity (ascites) is the most common
major complication of
cirrhosis. But it's important to get treatment. People who have alcoholic cirrhosis may
develop ascites early in the course of liver disease. Those who have other
forms of cirrhosis, such as that caused by viral hepatitis, may develop ascites
much later. The things that cause fluid to accumulate in the abdomen are
complex, but high blood pressure in the portal vein system of the liver (portal hypertension) is an important contributor to
Treatment for ascites depends on the cause.
Low-salt diet and medicines
About 90 out of 100 people with ascites
caused by cirrhosis respond to treatment with a low-salt diet and medicines
(diuretics) that eliminate extra fluid from the
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.
Reducing your sodium intake can help prevent
fluid buildup in your abdomen and chest.
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 abdominal pain and
Infection of the ascitic fluid (spontaneous
Increased fluid accumulation 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.
Therapeutic paracentesis may be used if you have
cirrhosis and you:
Have severe ascites that is causing extreme
discomfort, including abdominal pain and difficulty breathing (tense ascites).
A one-time paracentesis treatment may relieve the discomfort of tense ascites
before you begin treatment with one or more
Have not responded to standard
treatment with diuretic medicine and a low-salt diet. (This is the case in
fewer than 10 out of 100 people who have ascites.)