Ascites is the accumulation of fluid in the abdomen. This develops as the result of cancer, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and other medical conditions. It is estimated that around 80% of individuals affected with cirrhosis have fluid accumulation.


The common cause of ascites is cirrhosis of the liver. This happens with the blockage of the blood flow to the liver. As a result, pressure builds up in the vein in a condition known as portal hypertension that causes ascites. The inability of the kidney to excrete the salt from the body causes the accumulation of fluids in the abdomen. This condition can also be caused by several types of cancer. The types of cancer that can develop fluid accumulation in the body include cancer of the breast, lung, stomach, ovary, womb and colon. This occurs when the cancer cells extend to the abdomen causing irritation and in the accumulation of fluid. The lymphatic system is responsible to drain the fluids from the body is blocked by cancer cells results in ineffective drainage.


People with ascites have swelling of the abdomen and may gain weight. The abdominal swelling causes uncomfortable pain with the individual unable to carry activities such as walking or sitting. In some people swelling of the ankles can also develop. It can cause sickness, fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, constipation and indigestion.


Ascites can be diagnosed with physical examination, blood tests and CT scan. The abdominal fluid may be removed and assessed for infections, cancer or other conditions.


Medication known as diuretics can treat ascites. Individuals with this condition can benefit from limiting salt in their diet. The other procedure involves inserting the ascetic tube into the abdomen to drain the fluid (paracentesis).  In some cases, the drainage will be carried out while the individual is also having an ultrasound scan which indicates the position of the tube. The duration of the procedure depends on the amount of fluid that requires to be drained. In the cases where fluid accumulates soon, a catheter will be inserted into the abdomen and may be left in place for several weeks. In severe cases, a liver transplant will be required when the functions of the liver are drastically failing.

Complications with ascitic drainage

A liter of fluid can be drained slowly with the paracentesis procedure, but the release of pressure within the abdomen can result in low blood pressure. Blockage in the drain can occur and may also become infected causing fever. The site of the drainage may leak after the tube has been removed. A drainage bag may be required at the site until the hole heals.

Risk Factors

One of the common risk factors of developing ascites includes any conditions that cause cirrhosis of the liver. This can be caused by hepatitis B and hepatitis C. The other conditions that are a risk factor include kidney failure, heart failure and cancer in the abdominal region.