Ascites - Excess Abdominal Fluid
Ascites is the build up of fluid in the abdomen and this fluid buildup causes swelling that usually develops over a few weeks, although it can also happen in just a few days. Ascites is so very uncomfortable and also causes nausea, tiredness, breathlessness, and then a feeling of being full. Liver disease is the most common cause of ascites. Other causes typically include cancer and heart failure.
Facts about ascites
- Ascites is a symptom of another underlying cause.
- Abdominal swelling and associated weight gain are typical symptoms of ascites.
- Prognosis and outlook of ascites depend on the underlying condition.
- Assessment of the progress of ascites may be made by regularly measuring the abdominal girth and by monitoring weight.
What is Ascites?
Ascites occurs when fluid accumulates in the abdomen. This buildup occurs between two membrane layers that together make up the peritoneum, a smooth sac that contains the body’s organs. It is usual to have a small amount of fluid in the peritoneum cavity.
Many underlying diseases can also be responsible for causing ascites, including the tuberculosis, the kidney disease, pancreatitis, and also an underactive thyroid. However, the primary causes of ascites are also a heart failure, the cirrhosis, and cancer. Ascites may develop if cancer affects the;
- lymphatic system
What are the symptoms of ascites?
Ascites is often painful and typically causes a person to feel;
- less hungry than usual
- urinary urgency and constipation
Fluid retention also causes pressure on the other internal organs, which also often results in a person experiencing discomfort. The Ascites may also cause bloating, also abdominal and back pain, and lead to a person having difficulty sitting and moving.
Treatment and management
If cirrhosis has caused ascites, an individual may also benefit from reducing salt and taking the water tablets (diuretics). The Water tablets cause urine to pass more frequently and can prevent further fluid retention. While this is an effective approach in many situations, some types of ascites are also resistant to diuretics. In severe cases, a liver transplant may be the best option. Other treatments include;
In resistant cases, or if there is a significant amount of excess fluid, paracentesis too can also be an effective management technique. Paracentesis involves a doctor inserting a needle into the abdomen and draining off the excess liquid. The aim of paracentesis is to also relieve
abdominal pressure, and so that the person feels less discomfort and in some instances, a person’s abdomen might also contain about 5 liters of fluid, but in some extreme cases of ascites, doctors have drained more than 10 liters of fluid from the abdomen.
When ascites is caused by cancer, doctors may use a shunt (tube) to move the fluid from the abdomen into the bloodstream. A doctor inserts a needle into a vein in the neck and places a shunt along the chest wall. The shunt connects the abdominal cavity to the neck, where it enters the vein. The fluid then moves along the tube into the bloodstream.
Chemotherapy can help to shrink or control cancer. It can be administered through a tube in the abdomen too which can also sometimes stop fluid from building up. Unfortunately, there is not much evidence also to suggest that this works well. The underlying conditions that cause ascites are often serious illnesses linked to
reduced life expectancy. The first diagnostic method is usually an abdominal examination. A doctor will look at the person’s abdomen while they are lying down and standing up. The abdominal shape will usually indicate whether or not there is a buildup of fluid. Assessment of the progress of ascites may also be made by regularly
measuring the abdominal girth and also by monitoring the weight. These measurements are helpful because fluctuations in weight due to changes in the abdominal fluid are much faster than weight fluctuations linked to body fat. Once fluid buildup is confirmed, further tests may be needed to pinpoint the cause. These include:
- Blood tests: These can usually assess liver and kidney function. If cirrhosis is confirmed, further tests will be required to clarify the cause and will include antibody tests for hepatitis B or C.
- Fluid sample analysis: A sample of abdominal fluid may show cancer cells are present or that there is an infection. Doctors remove fluid from the abdomen with a syringe and send it to a laboratory for analysis.
- Abdominal ultrasound: This is helpful for identifying underlying causes of ascites. It can show if a person has cancer or if cancer has spread to the liver.
If an ultrasound investigation does not reveal a cause of ascites, then the doctors may surely highly recommend an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan. X-rays are also excellent diagnostic imaging tools. They can also confirm buildup of fluid in the lungs, cancer that has spread to the lungs, or heart failure.
Prognosis and outlook of ascites also depend on the underlying condition. Symptoms can be managed and reduced, but it is the treatment of the cause of ascites that determines the outcome. There is also currently no satisfactory treatment for people who have cirrhosis as well as a form of ascites that is resistant to diuretics. Paracentesis and shunts without a liver transplant may improve a person’s quality of life but are not thought to improve long-term life expectancy significantly.