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What is ascites?

Ascites is the presence of excess fluid in the peritoneal cavity. It is a common clinical finding with a wide range of causes, but develops most frequently as a part of the decompensation of previously asymptomatic chronic liver disease.

Rapidly developing (acute) ascites can occur as a complication of trauma, perforated ulcer, appendicitis, or inflammation of the colon or other tube-shaped organ (diverticulitis). This condition can also develop when intestinal fluids, bile, pancreatic juices, or bacteria invade or inflame the smooth, transparent membrane that lines the inside of the abdomen (peritoneum). However, ascites is more often associated with liver disease and other long-lasting (chronic) conditions.

Cirrhosis, which is responsible for 80% of all instances of ascites in the United States, triggers a series of disease-producing changes that weaken the kidney's ability to excrete sodium in the urine.

Pancreatic ascites develops when a cyst that has thick, fibrous walls (pseudocyst) bursts and permits pancreatic juices to enter the abdominal cavity.

Chylous ascites has a milky appearance caused by lymph that has leaked into the abdominal cavity. Although chylous ascites is sometimes caused by trauma, abdominal surgery, tuberculosis, or another peritoneal infection, it is usually a symptom of lymphoma or some other cancer.

Cancer causes 10% of all instances of ascites in the United States. It is most commonly a consequence of disease that originates in the peritoneum (peritoneal carcinomatosis) or of cancer that spreads (metastasizes) from another part of the body.

Endocrine and renal ascites are rare disorders. Endocrine ascites, sometimes a symptom of an endocrine system disorder, also affects women who are taking fertility drugs. Renal ascites develops when blood levels of albumin dip below normal. Albumin is the major protein in blood plasma. It functions to keep fluid inside the blood vessels.

Cirrhosis, which is responsible for 80% of all instances of ascites in the United States, triggers a series of disease-producing changes that weaken the kidney's ability to excrete sodium in the urine.

Pancreatic ascites develops when a cyst that has thick, fibrous walls (pseudocyst) bursts and permits pancreatic juices to enter the abdominal cavity.

Chylous ascites has a milky appearance caused by lymph that has leaked into the abdominal cavity. Although chylous ascites is sometimes caused by trauma, abdominal surgery, tuberculosis, or another peritoneal infection, it is usually a symptom of lymphoma or some other cancer.

Cancer causes 10% of all instances of ascites in the United States. It is most commonly a consequence of disease that originates in the peritoneum (peritoneal carcinomatosis) or of cancer that spreads (metastasizes) from another part of the body.

Endocrine and renal ascites are rare disorders. Endocrine ascites, sometimes a symptom of an endocrine system disorder, also affects women who are taking fertility drugs. Renal ascites develops when blood levels of albumin dip below normal. Albumin is the major protein in blood plasma. It functions to keep fluid inside the blood vessels.

More information on ascites

What is ascites? - Ascites is the presence of excess fluid in the peritoneal cavity. Ascites is more often associated with liver disease and other long-lasting (chronic) conditions.
What causes ascites? - Ascites occur in long-standing disorders including cirrhosis, alcoholic hepatitis without cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis, and obstruction of the hepatic vein.
What're the symptoms of ascites? - Mild ascites is hard to notice, but severe ascites leads to abdominal distension. Some chronic ascites patients develop hepatic hydrothrorax.
How is ascites diagnosed? - Several blood tests are commonly performed for ascites, including full blood count, electrolytes and renal function, liver enzymes, and glucose.
What is the treatment for ascites? - The basic treatment for ascites is bed rest and a salt-restricted diet, usually combined with drugs called diuretics. 
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