ascites n : accumulation of serous fluid in peritoneal cavity
- An accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal cavity, frequently symptomatic of liver disease.
In medicine (gastroenterology), ascites (also known as peritoneal cavity fluid, peritoneal fluid excess, hydroperitoneum or more archaically as abdominal dropsy) is an accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal cavity. Although most commonly due to cirrhosis and severe liver disease, its presence can portend other significant medical problems. Diagnosis of the cause is usually with blood tests, an ultrasound scan of the abdomen and direct removal of the fluid by needle or paracentesis (which may also be therapeutic). Treatment may be with medication (diuretics), paracentesis or other treatments directed at the cause.
Signs and symptomsMild ascites is hard to notice, but severe ascites leads to abdominal distension. Patients with ascites generally will complain of progressive abdominal heaviness and pressure as well as shortness of breath due to mechanical impingement on the diaphragm.
Ascites is detected on physical examination of the abdomen by visible bulging of the flanks in the reclining patient ("flank bulging"), "shifting dullness" (difference in percussion note in the flanks that shifts when the patient is turned on the side) or in massive ascites with a "fluid thrill" or "fluid wave" (tapping or pushing on one side will generate a wave-like effect through the fluid that can be felt in the opposite side of the abdomen).
Other signs of ascites may be present due to its underlying etiology. For instance, in portal hypertension (perhaps due to cirrhosis or fibrosis of the liver) patients may also complain of leg swelling, bruising, gynecomastia, hematemesis, or mental changes due to encephalopathy. Those with ascites due to cancer (peritoneal carcinomatosis) may complain of chronic fatigue or weight loss. Those with ascites due to heart failure may also complain of shortness of breath as well as wheezing and exercise intolerance.
ClassificationAscites exists in three grades:
- Grade 1: mild, only visible on ultrasound
- Grade 2: detectable with flank bulging and shifting dullness
- Grade 3: directly visible, confirmed with fluid thrill
DiagnosisRoutine complete blood count (CBC), basic metabolic profile, liver enzymes, and coagulation should be performed. Most experts recommend a diagnostic paracentesis be performed if the ascites is new or if the patient with ascites is being admitted to the hospital. The fluid is then reviewed for its gross appearance, protein level, albumin, and cell counts (red and white). Additional tests will be performed if indicated such as Gram stain and cytology.
The Serum-ascities albumin gradient (SAAG) is probably a better discriminant than older measures (transudate versus exudate) for the causes of ascites. A high gradient (> 1.1 g/dL) indicates the ascites is due to portal hypertension. A low gradient (< 1.1 g/dL) indicates ascites of non-portal hypertensive etiology.
Ultrasound investigation is often performed prior to attempts to remove fluid from the abdomen. This may reveal the size and shape of the abdominal organs, and Doppler studies may show the direction of flow in the portal vein, as well as detecting Budd-Chiari syndrome and portal vein thrombosis. Additionally, the sonographer can make an estimation of the amount of ascitic fluid, and difficult-to-drain ascites may be drained under ultrasound guidance. Abdominal CT scan is a more accurate alternate to reveal abdominal organ structure and morphology.
CausesCauses of high SAAG ("transudate") are:
PathophysiologyAscitic fluid can accumulate as a transudate or an exudate. Amounts of up to 25 liters are fully possible.
Roughly, transudates are a result of increased pressure in the portal vein (>8 mmHg, usually around 20 mmHg), e.g. due to cirrhosis, while exudates are actively secreted fluid due to inflammation or malignancy. As a result, exudates are high in protein, high in lactate dehydrogenase, have a low pH (<7.30), a low glucose level, and more white blood cells. Transudates have low protein (<30g/L), low LDH, high pH, normal glucose, and fewer than 1 white cell per 1000 mm³. Clinically, the most useful measure is the difference between ascitic and serum albumin concentrations. A difference of less than 1 g/dl (10 g/L) implies an exudate. In those with severe ascites causing a tense abdomen, hospitalization is generally necessary for paracentesis.
Salt restrictionSalt restriction is the initial treatment, which allows diuresis (production of urine) since the patient now has more fluid than salt concentration. Salt restriction is effective in about 15% of patients.
DiureticsSince salt restriction is the basic concept in treatment, and aldosterone is one of the hormones that acts to increase salt retention, a medication that counteracts aldosterone should be sought. Spironolactone (or other distal-tubule diuretics such as triamterene or amiloride) is the drug of choice since they block the aldosterone receptor in the collecting tubule. This choice has been confirmed in a randomized controlled trial. Diuretics for ascites should be dosed once per day. Generally, the starting dose is oral spironolactone 100 mg/day (max 400 mg/day). 40% of patients will respond to spironolactone.
Monitoring diuresis: Diuresis can be monitored by weighing the patient daily. The goal is weight loss of no more than 1.0 kg/day for patients with both ascites and peripheral edema and no more than 0.5 kg/day for patients with ascites alone. If daily weights cannot be obtained, diuretics can also be guided by the urinary sodium concentration. Dosage is increased until a negative sodium balance occurs.
Diuretic resistance: Diuretic resistance can be predicted by giving 80 mg intravenous furosemide after 3 days without diuretics and on an 80 mEq sodium/day diet. The urinary sodium excretion over 8 hours < 50 mEq/8 hours predicts resistance.
If a patient exhibits a resistance to or poor response to diuretic therapy, ultrafiltration or aquapheresis may be needed to achieve adequate control of fluid retention and congestion. The use of such mechanical methods of fluid removal can produce meaningful clinical benefits in patients with diuretic resistantance and may restore responsiveness to conventional doses of diuretics.
Water restrictionWater restriction is needed if hyponatremia < 130 mmol per liter develops. is used to prioritize patients for transplantation.
ShuntingIn a minority of patients with advanced cirrhosis that have recurrent ascites, shunts may be used. Typical shunts used are portacaval shunt, peritoneovenous shunt, and the transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS). However, none of these shunts has been shown to extend life expectancy, and are considered to be bridges to liver transplantation. A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials by the international Cochrane Collaboration concluded that "TIPS was more effective at removing ascites as compared with paracentesis...however, TIPS patients develop hepatic encephalopathy significantly more often"
Low SAAGExudative ascites generally does not respond to manipulation of the salt balance or diuretic therapy. Repeated paracentesis and treatment of the underlying cause is the mainstay of treatment.
Spontaneous bacterial peritonitis
Cultural significanceIt has been suggested that ascites was seen as a punishment especially for oath-breakers among the Proto-Indo-Europeans. This proposal builds on the Hittite military oath as well as various Vedic hymns (RV 7.89, AVS 4.16.7). A similar curse dates to the Kassite dynasty (12th century BC), threatening oath-breakers: "May Marduk, king of heaven and earth, fill his body with dropsy, which has a grip that can never be loosened". Comparable is also Numeri 5:11ff, where a confirmed adulteress is punished with swelling of the abdomen.
ascites in Arabic: استسقاء (مرض)
ascites in Czech: Ascites
ascites in German: Aszites
ascites in Spanish: Ascitis
ascites in French: Ascite
ascites in Western Frisian: Bûkfocht
ascites in Italian: Ascite
ascites in Dutch: Ascites (medisch)
ascites in Japanese: 腹水
ascites in Polish: Wodobrzusze
ascites in Portuguese: Ascite
ascites in Russian: Асцит
ascites in Finnish: Askites
ascites in Swedish: Ascites
ascites in Telugu: జలోదరం
ascites in Ukrainian: Асцит