Symptoms, Doctors, Treatments, Research & More

Condition 101

What is the definition of Ascites?

Ascites is the build-up of fluid in the space between the lining of the abdomen and abdominal organs.

What are the alternative names for Ascites?

Portal hypertension - ascites; Cirrhosis - ascites; Liver failure - ascites; Alcohol use - ascites; End-stage liver disease - ascites; ESLD - ascites

What are the causes for Ascites?

Ascites results from high pressure in the blood vessels of the liver (portal hypertension) and low levels of a protein called albumin.

Diseases that can cause severe liver damage can lead to ascites. These include:

  • Chronic hepatitis C or B infection 
  • Alcohol abuse over many years
  • Fatty liver disease (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH)

People with certain cancers in the abdomen may develop ascites. These include cancer of the appendix, colon, ovaries, uterus, pancreas, and liver.

Other conditions that can cause this problem include:

  • Clots in the veins of the liver (portal vein thrombosis)
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Pancreatitis
  • Thickening and scarring of the sac-like covering of the heart (pericarditis)

Kidney dialysis may also be linked to ascites.

What are the symptoms for Ascites?

Symptoms may develop slowly or suddenly depending on the cause of ascites. You may have no symptoms if there is only a small amount of fluid in the belly.

As more fluid collects, you may have abdominal pain and bloating. Large amounts of fluid can cause shortness of breath.

Many other symptoms of liver failure may also be present.

What are the current treatments for Ascites?

The condition that causes ascites will be treated, if possible.

Treatments for fluid build-up may include lifestyle changes:

  • Avoiding alcohol
  • Lowering salt in your diet (no more than 1,500 mg/day of sodium)
  • Limiting fluid intake

You may also get medicines from your doctor, including:

  • "Water pills" (diuretics) to get rid of extra fluid
  • Antibiotics for infections

Other things you can do to help take care of your liver disease are:

  • Get vaccinated for diseases such as influenza, hepatitis A and hepatitis B, and pneumococcal pneumonia
  • Talk to your doctor about all medicines you take, including herbs and supplements and over-the-counter medicines

Procedures that you may have are:

  • Inserting a needle into the belly to remove large volumes of fluid (called a paracentesis)
  • Placing a special tube or shunt inside your liver (TIPS) to repair blood flow to the liver

People with end-stage liver disease may need a liver transplant.

If you have cirrhosis, avoid taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn). Acetaminophen should be taken in reduced doses.

What are the possible complications for Ascites?

Complications may include:

  • Spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (a life-threatening infection of the ascitic fluid)
  • Hepatorenal syndrome (kidney failure)
  • Weight loss and protein malnutrition
  • Mental confusion, change in the level of alertness, or coma (hepatic encephalopathy)
  • Bleeding from the upper or lower gastrointestinal tract
  • Build-up of fluid in the space between your lungs and chest cavity (pleural effusion)
  • Other complications of liver cirrhosis

When should I contact a medical professional for Ascites?

If you have ascites, call your health care provider right away if you have:

  • Fever above 100.5°F (38.05°C), or a fever that does not go away
  • Belly pain
  • Blood in your stool or black, tarry stools
  • Blood in your vomit
  • Bruising or bleeding that occurs easily
  • Build-up of fluid in your belly
  • Swollen legs or ankles
  • Breathing problems
  • Confusion or problems staying awake
  • Yellow color in your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)


Garcia-Tsao G. Cirrhosis and its sequelae. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 153.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Cirrhosis. Updated March 2018. Accessed August 19, 2018.

Runyon BA. Ascites and spontaneous bacterial peritonitis. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 93.

Zenlea T, George PF. Ascites. In: Ferri FF, ed. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2019. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018: 138-141.e2.

Latest Research

Latest Advance
  • Condition: Gastric Cancer
  • Journal: Zhonghua wei chang wai ke za zhi = Chinese journal of gastrointestinal surgery
  • Treatment Used: Enhanced Recovery after Surgery
  • Number of Patients: 203
  • Published —
The study researched the benefits of an enhanced recovery after surgery program for Chinese patients with gastric cancer.
Latest Advance
  • Condition: Liver Cancer
  • Journal: BMC cancer
  • Treatment Used: Artificial Ascites with Thermal Ablation
  • Number of Patients: 39
  • Published —
This study tested the safety and efficacy of using artificial ascites to improve thermal ablation outcomes in patients with liver cancer.
Latest Advance
  • Condition: Acute Kidney Injury caused by TAFRO Syndrome
  • Journal: Kidney & blood pressure research
  • Treatment Used: Long-Term Corticosteroids Combined with Bortezomib and Cyclophosphamide
  • Number of Patients: 1
  • Published —
The study researched the outcomes of a case of acute kidney injury caused by TAFRO syndrome.
Latest Advance
  • Condition: Pediatric heart defect
  • Journal: The Journal of heart and lung transplantation : the official publication of the International Society for Heart Transplantation
  • Treatment Used: Combined heart-liver transplant (HLT)
  • Number of Patients: 42
  • Published —
This study evaluated the heart and combined heart-liver transplant outcomes in pediatric patients born with a heart defect who underwent Fontan procedures between 2006 and 2019.

Clinical Trials

Clinical Trial
  • Status: Recruiting
  • Study Type: Drug
  • Participants: 60
  • Start Date: July 11, 2020
Effect of Midodrine on HVPG in Advanced Chronic Liver Disease - A Pilot Study
Clinical Trial
  • Status: Recruiting
  • Study Type: Drug
  • Participants: 20
  • Start Date: June 5, 2020
Safety and Efficacy of Midodrine Hydrochloride in the Management of Refractory Ascites Due to Cirrhosis in Children: a Pilot Study
Clinical Trial
  • Status: Recruiting
  • Participants: 54
  • Start Date: May 1, 2020
Platelet Indices in Prediction of Mortality in Critically Ill Septic Patients