What causes ascites? 18 possible conditions

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Overview

When fluid builds up inside the abdomen, it is known as ascites. Ascites usually occurs when the liver stops working properly. Fluid fills the space between the lining of the abdomen and the organs.

People with ascites only have a five-year survival rate of 30 to 40 percent. If you experience ascites symptoms, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.

Ascites Causes and Risk Factors

Ascites is most often caused by liver scarring. This increases pressure inside the liver’s blood vessels. The increased pressure can force fluid into the abdominal cavity, causing ascites.

Liver damage is the biggest risk factor for ascites. Some causes of liver damage include:

  • cirrhosis
  • hepatitis B or C
  • a history of alcohol use

Other conditions that may increase your risk of ascites include:

  • ovarian, pancreatic, liver, or endometrial cancer
  • heart or kidney failure
  • pancreatitis
  • tuberculosis

Symptoms of Ascites

Symptoms of ascites can appear either slowly or suddenly. It depends on the cause of the fluid buildup. They include:

  • sudden weight gain
  • a distended abdomen
  • difficulty breathing when laying down
  • diminished appetite
  • abdominal pain
  • bloating
  • nausea and vomiting
  • heartburn

Many ascites symptoms can also be caused by other conditions. They do not always signal an emergency. However, you should talk to your doctor if you are at risk for ascites and experience any of its symptoms.

Diagnosing Ascites

Diagnosing ascites takes multiple steps. Your doctor will first check for swelling in your abdomen. Then he will probably use imaging to look for fluid. Abdominal imaging might include an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI. Blood tests, laparoscopy, and angiography can also be used to diagnose ascites.

Treatment for Ascites

Treatment for ascites depends on what is causing your condition.

Diuretics

Diuretics are a common way to treat this condition. They reduce the pressure within the veins around the liver. In other words, they treat the cause of ascites.

Diuretics are used to treat ascites. While you are on diuretics, your doctor may want to monitor your blood chemistry. You will probably need to reduce your alcohol use and salt intake.

Paracentesis

This procedure uses a thin, long needle to remove the excess fluid. It is inserted through the skin and into the abdominal cavity. Because of this, there is a risk of infection. You may be prescribed antibiotics.

This treatment is usually used when cancer is causing the ascites. Diuretics do not work as well in cancer patients. Their fluid buildup is usually not caused by liver damage.

Surgery

In extreme cases, a permanent tube called a shunt is implanted in the body. It reroutes blood flow around the liver.

Liver transplant may also be recommended if ascites does not respond to treatment. It is generally used for end-stage liver disease.

Preventing Ascites

Ascites can not be prevented. However, you can lower your risk by protecting your liver. To do this:

  • Drink alcohol only in moderation. This can help prevent cirrhosis.
  • Get vaccinated for hepatitis B.
  • Always practice safe sex. Hepatitis can be spread sexually.
  • Avoid intravenous drug use. Hepatitis can also be transmitted through shared needles.
  • Be aware of the potential side effects of your medications. If liver damage is a risk, talk to your doctor about whether your liver function should be tested.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Peritonitis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Peritonitis is the inflammation of a thin layer of tissue inside the abdomen. Caused by bacteria or fungus, it causes tenderness, bloating, fatigue, greying of the skin, and other problems.

Read more »

2

Alcoholic Liver Cirrhosis

Drinking too much alcohol can harm the liver. It can result in a serious disease known as ALC (ALC). The liver in the organ in your body that is responsible for the breakdown of harmful toxins like alcohol. It als...

Read more »

3

Liver Cancer

Liver cancer causes destruction of liver cells and interferes with the ability of the liver to function normally. Cancer that originates in the liver can spread from the liver to other parts of the body.

Read more »

4

Chronic Pancreatitis

The pancreas is vital to digestion and blood sugar regulation. Chronic pancreatitis is long-lasting inflammation that causes nausea and pain in the abdomen, and may eventually lead to scarring.

Read more »

5

Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

Congestive heart failure is a chronic condition that affects the four chambers of the heart. Early symptoms include fatigue and weight gain. Irregular heart beat and wheezing indicate a worsening.

Read more »

6

Hepatitis

Hepatitis is swelling and inflammation of the liver. It's usually caused by a viral infection. There are several types of hepatitis, including: A, B, C, D, and E. Symptoms may not occur until liver damage occurs.

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7

Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is severe scarring and poor function of the liver caused by long-term exposure to toxins such as alcohol or viral infections. Certain medications and disorder can also cause cirrhosis.

Read more »

8

Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is cancer of the pancreas, an organ that secretes an enzyme that breaks down fats, carbs, and proteins. Pancreatic cancer can obstruct the outflow of bile from the liver and causes yellow skin.

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9

Hepatic Vein Thrombosis (Budd-Chiari Syndrome)

Hepatic vein thrombosis (HVT) is an obstruction in the veins of the liver caused by a blood clot. This condition blocks blood flow from the liver to the heart. Without proper blood flow, the liver stops getting th...

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10

Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is a lymphatic system cancer. Symptoms may include swollen lymph nodes, chest pain, fatigue, and fever.

Read more »

11

Ovarian Cancer

The ovaries are small, almond-shaped organs located on either side of the uterus. They are where eggs are produced. Ovarian cancer can occur in several different parts of the ovary. Ovarian cancer can start in th...

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12

Pericarditis

Pericarditis is the inflammation of the sac that surrounds your heart. The sac is a double-layered membrane called the pericardium. The pericardium protects your heart and helps it function properly.Pericarditis can b...

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13

Burkitt's Lymphoma

Burkitt's lymphoma is a relatively rare and aggressive form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is a type of cancer of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system helps your body to fight infections...

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14

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is liver inflammation caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). HBV is one of five types of hepatitis virus. The others are hepatitis A, C, D, and E. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stat...

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15

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a disease that causes inflammation and infection in the liver. This condition develops after being infected with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). There are two forms of hepatitis C: acute and chronic. Acut...

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16

Alcoholic Liver Disease

Damage to the liver from excessive drinking can lead to ALD. Years of alcohol abuse cause the liver to become inflamed and swollen. This damage can also cause scarring known as cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is the final stage o...

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17

Hepatitis E

The hepatitis E virus is transmitted via the intestinal tract and is not caused by the hep-A virus. It is spread most often by contaminated drinking water.

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18

Hepatitis D

Hepatitis D, also known as the delta virus, is an infection that causes your liver to swell. It is caused by the hepatitis D virus (HDV) and is uncommon in the United States. Hepatitis D is one of many forms o...

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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