Abdominal Tap

Written by Julie Roddick | Published on July 11, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is an Abdominal Tap?

Abdominal tap, also known as paracentesis, is a medical procedure to remove excess fluid from the abdominal cavity, the area between the abdominal wall and the spine. Normally there is little to no fluid in the abdominal cavity. Fluid in the abdominal cavity can cause bloating, pain, and breathing difficulties. The most common cause of fluid in the abdominal cavity is cirrhosis of the liver, but it can also be caused by a variety of illnesses including infection, bowel damage, kidney disease, heart disease, and cancer.

Your doctor may perform a diagnostic tap to find out the cause of the fluid buildup, or he may perform a large-volume tap, during which up to several liters of fluid are removed to decrease the pressure and pain.

What Happens During an Abdominal Tap Procedure?

Before you have an abdominal tap, your doctor will take your medical history and give you a physical exam. He or she may also order blood tests, X-ray, CT scan, MRI, or ultrasound tests. The abdominal tap can be done in the doctor’s office, a treatment room, or in the hospital. You should not eat or drink anything 12 hours before the procedure, and be sure to empty your bladder right before.

An abdominal tap procedure takes only about 10 to 15 minutes, and involves the following:

  • The area will be cleaned and shaved.
  • A local anesthetic will be given to numb the area.
  • Occasionally a small slit in the skin is made for the tap needle.
  • A needle for the tap will be inserted 1 to 2 inches deep.
  • Fluid is extracted with the syringe.
  • The needle is removed.
  • If a slit was made, it is stitched.
  • The wound is dressed.

Are There Any Risks With an Abdominal Tap?

Risks associated with an abdominal tap are rare, the most common being minor trouble breathing and fluid leakage right after the procedure. Usually you will have to wait to leave the doctor’s office or hospital until those clear up. Other risks include:

  • decrease in blood pressure
  • an accidentally punctured blood vessel, bowel, or bladder
  • kidney failure
  • infection

Once you are home, call your doctor immediately if you develop any of these symptoms:

  • fever and chills
  • redness and swelling around the needle puncture
  • increased pain
  • bleeding or fluid leakage
  • cough or shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • fainting
  • increased abdominal swelling

What Are the Possible Diagnostic Results of an Abdominal Tap?

The most common cause of abdominal fluid requiring a diagnostic abdominal tap is cirrhosis of the liver. Other possible results and causes of the fluid retention are:

  • infection
  • bowel damage
  • heart disease
  • kidney disease
  • pancreatic disease
  • tumor

Depending on the results of the abdominal tap and any other test performed, further medical care may be needed.

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