Do you know what is ascites? It is the build up of fluid in the abdomen. This fluid buildup makes your abdomen swollen and it mostly occurs over a few weeks. The condition ascites is very uncomfortable and has symptoms such as nausea, tiredness, breathlessness, and a feeling of being full. The most common cause of ascites is liver disease. There are many other causes that usually include underlying conditions such as cancer and heart failure. Ascites basically develops when fluid recollects in the abdomen. This buildup develops between two membrane layers that are together responsible for peritoneum, a smooth sac that contains the body’s organs. It is completely normal to have a small amount of fluid in the peritoneum cavity. Symptoms of ascites can show gradually or suddenly, on the basis of the cause of fluid buildup. Onlymyhealth editorial team spoke to Dr. Manav Wadhawan, Senior Director, Gastroenterology & Hepatology, BLK Super Super Speciality Hospital, about the symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment of ascites.
What causes ascites?
According to Dr. Manav Wadhawan, ascites is usually caused by any liver diseases or scarring, also known as cirrhosis. Liver cirrhosis is responsible for increasing the pressure inside the liver’s blood vessels. The increased pressure can contribute towards the fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity, resulting in ascites. There are many underlying health conditions that can be a major factor behind ascites, such as tuberculosis, kidney disease, pancreatitis, and hypothyroidism. These are some other rare risk factors of this condition as well. But, the main causes of ascites are heart failure, cirrhosis, and cancer.
Symptoms of ascites
The fluid buildup causes abdominal swelling and a lot of pressure on the other internal organs, which can mostly lead to patient getting uncomfortable. Ascites can also cause bloating, abdominal and back pain, and also result in difficulty in sitting and moving. The symptoms do not always indicate any emergency, but it is advised to talk to your doctor if you experience anything such as:
- Poor appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Sudden weight gain
Ascites diagnosis and treatment
As per Dr. Manav, ultrasound is the easiest and simplest way to diagnose this condition. The underlying conditions that cause ascites are often serious diseases and have a directly associated with a lower life expectancy. The foremost diagnostic way is often an abdominal examination. The doctor will look at the patient's abdomen, both while lying down and standing up. The abdominal shape can easily tell if there is any fluid buildup or not. A proper examination of the stage of ascites can be done by simply measuring the abdominal girth and by calculating its weight. These measurements are used to know about the changes in the weight due to the abdominal fluid, except the body fat. Once the tests confirm fluid buildup, further tests are conducted to know the exact cause including blood tests, MRI and abdominal ultrasound.
Treatment for ascites depend on the underlying cause of the disease. Diuretics are usually used to treat ascites and are effective for most people with this condition. The medications can increase the amount of salt and water leaving your body, which reduces pressure within the veins around the liver. The healthcare expert might also tell you to reduce your alcohol use and salt intake. In the surgical procedure, a thin, long needle is used to remove the excess fluid. It is inserted through the skin into the abdominal cavity. There can be a chance of infection, so people who undergo paracentesis will also have to take some prescribed medications. The doctor might also have to do a liver transplant if ascites does not get treated with other methods and this is the last stage of treatment.
So, these were the symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment of ascites by Dr. Manav Wadhawan. Ascites cannot be prevented, but you can surely reduce the risk of this disease by protecting your liver, by preventing cirrhosis. In order to do this, the first priority should be moderate alcohol intake. Along with that, you should get vaccinated for hepatitis B to prevent ascites. You should also be aware about all the side effects of your medicines. If liver damage is a risk factor for you, then consult a doctor about any tests and medical treatment.
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