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Ascites: A Complication of Other Serious Diseases

Updated on April 18, 2013

What is Ascites?

What is Ascites? Ascites is a complication of other diseases, most notably Cirrhosis of the Liver. Cirrhosis of the liver is the most common cause, but not the only one. Cirrhosis of the Liver is scaring and damage to the liver that is from advanced long-term alcohol abuse. Ascites is an abnormal, excess build up of fluid collecting in the abdomen. The word, "Ascites" comes from the Greek language, and it means bag or sac. The excess fluid collects in the space between the tissues lining the abdomen and the abdominal organs. Hepatitis C and B are the most common causes of Cirrhosis, and long-term alcohol abuse. Other diseases that may cause Ascites include: Colon Cancer, Ovarian Cancer, Endometrial Cancer, Pancreatic Cancer, and Liver Cancer. Other diseases may cause Ascites, as well. Ascites can range from mild to serious. There are three grades of ascites: the first is mild, and is not visible. The mild form will show up on an ultrasound and CT Scan, the second is detectable, and there is a noticeable bulge in the flank, and the third is directly visible.

Video on Ascites

Tests for Ascites

If a person suspects that they might have ascites, they should consult a doctor right away, so that they can be tested to find out if they have the complication or not. There are blood tests that can be help determine if a person has ascites, and if so, a complete red blood cell count and white blood cell count is taken to help determine if the ascitic fluid is infected or not. Ascites ranges from mild to severe, and has three grades. Ascites in mild cases is not as noticable, but in severe cases the bulge of the abdomen is quite noticeable. Ascites in its severe form can cause shortness of breath, pain, and fatique. The doctor can do a physical examination of the patient to try to determine if the patient has ascites.

Liver Disease

A liver that is diseased by long-term alcohol abuse is not capable of functioning properly, and a protein called albumin is reduced, because a severly damaged liver is not capable of producing enough of it. Albumin is prominent in the blood, and it helps to maintain blood volume. There are two factors that combine that leads to the development of ascites, which is portal hypertension and a low level of the protein "albumin" in the blood. There is increased pressure in the veins that carry blood from the stomach, intestines, and spleen to the liver, which is damaged and can not function normally. In severe cases of ascites, there is a large build up of fluid in the abdomen that is highly visable.

Treatments of Ascites

Lifestyle changes and medicines may help to reduce the fluid that has built up as a result of ascites. Diuretics (water pills) may help by eliminating the fluid that has built up, and a salt-restricted diet may be prescribed, as well. If diuretics and other treatments fail to work, then there are other options. Paracentesis is a procedure, involving a long needle that is inserted into the abdomen in a sterile environment, to withdraw the fluid. Paracentesis can be done more than once. In severe cases, shunts or catheters are used to drain the excess fluid continually, because the fluid builds up continually. In severe cases of cirrhosis of the liver with the presence of ascites a liver transplant might be the only option, and a person with cirrhosis and ascites is a good candidate for a liver transplant. People with liver disease should not drink alcohol, or should use moderation. One drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.

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