Ascites (Excess Abdominal Fluid); Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Our abdominal cavity is quite impressive. It houses many vital organs including the liver, the guts, the spleen, the pancreas and many blood vessels and lymph nodes in a tight space. Not only that, but it can also house a pregnant uterus and can contain many liters of fluid. This unique ability is possible because of its distensibility.

Ascites occurs when excessive fluid accumulates inside such cavity. Fluid accumulates in the abdominal cavity from the blood vessels of the abdomen. This can occur when the blood pressure within them increases or when the kidney begins accumulating sodium and water in the body.

Another factor that can cause this process is the decreased amount of albumin, a special protein that helps keep fluids within the blood vessels. Regardless, all of those mechanisms result in the accumulation of variable amounts of fluid in the abdominal cavity, which causes abdominal swelling.

Medical causes of ascites

There are many causes for ascites including:

  • Liver cirrhosis, which is an advanced stage of liver disease. It causes hypertension of the liver’s blood vessels (portal hypertension) and decreases the amount of albumin in the blood.
  • Kidney diseases such as nephrotic syndrome, which results in the loss of proteins in urine and causes swelling of the lower limb and abdomen.
  • Severe malnutrition, which also decreases the amount of protein in the blood, causing ascites.
  • Heart failure at its advanced stages. Heart failure usually starts by swelling of the limbs, but abdominal swelling can follow.
  • Intestinal diseases, collectively known as protein-losing enteropathy, where large amounts of proteins are lost into the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Other diseases can also cause ascites, but the fluid may be of different nature, including ovarian, pancreatic, lymphatic, and urinary problems.

Liver cirrhosis is a stage of liver deterioration rather than a disease. It can result from chronic hepatitis resulting from chronic alcohol use or viral infection. Steatohepatitis results from diabetes and increased fat intake, causing fatty liver disease and inflammation which can also result in cirrhosis.

Written by Martin Davis