What causes ascites?

Cirrhosis of the liver is the most common cause of ascites. Cirrhosis of the liver is caused by an underlying disease or condition that results in inflammation and the formation of permanent scarring (fibrosis) of liver tissue and hardening of the liver. Permanent liver scarring obstructs and decreases blood flow through the blood vessels to and from the liver. This leads to the development of high blood pressure in the portal vein (portal hypertension).

The portal vein is a large vein in the abdomen that brings blood to the liver to be filtered. Portal hypertension causes blood to back up, which forces fluid from the blood vessels to leak into the abdominal cavity (ascites), and other serious problems.

Hepatic (liver) causes of ascites

Diseases and conditions that can cause scarring of the liver, cirrhosis and ascites include:

  • Autoimmune hepatitis (form of hepatitis in which the immune system attacks the liver)
  • Chronic hepatitis B or C
  • Cystic fibrosis (inherited disease that causes a buildup of mucus in the liver, lungs, and other organs)
  • Glycogen storage diseases
  • Hemochromatosis (excessive levels of iron in the body that cause liver damage)
  • Liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma)
  • Metastatic cancer seeding the liver
  • Secondary biliary cirrhosis
  • Wilson’s disease (inherited disease that causes excessive retention of copper and liver damage)

Other causes of ascites

Other than cirrhosis of the liver, causes of ascites include:

  • Blood clot in the portal or hepatic vein

  • Certain cancers, such as ovarian cancer, colon cancer and pancreatic cancer

  • Congestive heart failure (severe deterioration of the heart’s ability to pump blood, resulting in potentially life-threatening congestion in the lungs and other tissues of the body)

  • Kidney failure (severe deterioration of kidney function, resulting in a buildup of waste and fluid in the body as well as other serious problems)

  • Nephrotic syndrome (type of kidney disease)

  • Pancreatitis

What are the risk factors for ascites?

A number of factors increase the risk of developing cirrhosis of the liver, the most common cause of ascites. Risk factors include:

  • Alcohol abuse and alcoholism

  • Chronic hepatitis B, C or D

  • Coronary artery disease

  • Diabetes (chronic disease that affects your body’s ability to use sugar for energy)

  • Exposure to certain toxins such as arsenic

  • High triglyceride levels

  • Intestinal bypass surgery

  • Kidney disease

  • Long-term treatment with corticosteroids

  • Obesity

Reducing your risk of ascites

You can lower your risk of developing some conditions that cause ascites by:

  • Not drinking alcohol or limiting alcohol intake to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men

  • Seeking regular medical care and following your treatment plan for chronic diseases and conditions, such as cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, and coronary artery disease


What is ascites?

Ascites is a serious condition in which there is an abnormal accumulation of fluid under the lining (peritoneum) of the abdominal cavity that builds up around the abdominal organs. Ascites is characterized by a swollen abdomen and weight gain. This can be accompanied by abdominal pain or discomfort, difficulty breathing, and ankle swelling.

Cirrhosis of the liver is the most common c... Read more about ascitesintroduction


What are the symptoms of ascites?

The main symptom of ascites is a swollen or distended abdomen due to fluid buildup. Other symptoms may include:


How is ascites treated?

Treatment for ascites often includes a multifaceted and individualized approach that involves directly treating the excess fluid as well as treating the underlying disease that caused the ascites, such as cirrhosis of the liver, congenital heart disease, or kidney failure. Merely draining the ascites fluid from the ... Read more about ascitestreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Digestive System

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