Ascites, Fluid Buildup in the Abdomen | Tampa General Hospita


Ascites is the most common complication of cirrhosis of the liver and results in fluid buildup in the abdomen. Fluid buildup in the abdomen can lead to ascites. The buildup occurs between the two layers of the peritoneum, a transparent membrane that lines the abdominal cavity and covers the abdominal organs (including the stomach, liver, kidneys and bowels). When more than 25 milliliters of fluid builds up between the layers of the peritoneum, ascites results. If left untreated, ascites can lead to infection or allow the fluid to move into the chest and surround the lungs, making breathing difficult. 

What Causes Ascites? 

Ascites is the most common complication of cirrhosis of the liver, a late-stage liver disease. Other conditions can also lead to ascites, such as: 

  • Congestive heart failure 
  • Kidney failure 
  • Infections 
  • Ovarian, pancreatic, liver or endometrial cancer
  • Hypothyroidism 

What Are the Symptoms of Ascites? 

The symptoms of ascites include: 

  • Rapid weight gain 
  • Swelling of the abdomen 
  • Bloating 
  • A sense of fullness or heaviness in the abdomen 
  • Swollen legs 
  • Hemorrhoids 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Indigestion 
  • Nausea or vomiting Loss of appetite 

How Is Ascites Diagnosed? 

Tampa General Hospital’s liver disease and hepatology team features skilled physicians who deliver prompt diagnoses for ascites. After completing a physical exam and learning about your medical history, we can conduct a variety of tests, such as: 

  • An ultrasound 
  • A computed tomography (CT) scan 
  • A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan 
  • Paracentesis, in which a needle is inserted into your abdomen to remove fluid for analysis 

How Is Ascites Treated? 

For some patients, ascites can be treated with healthy lifestyle changes. TGH’s registered dieticians can work with you to develop a healthy eating plan that may include limiting your sodium intake to 4,000 milligrams or less per day and taking a diuretic.  

Other patients, however, may require additional treatments to improve their symptoms. At TGH, we offer: 

  • Paracentesis – This procedure can drain a large amount of fluid from the abdomen. 
  • Transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS) – This procedure inserts a stent into a vein in the liver to form a channel that bypasses the liver.  
  • Liver transplant – This procedure is only performed in the most severe cases of cirrhosis.