Ascites: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

What is Ascites?

Ascites is the medical name for the abnormal accumulation of fluid in your abdominal cavity. This fluid occupies the space surrounding the abdomen’s lining and its organs like the kidneys, stomach, bowels, and spleen. (x) This fluid buildup results in abdominal swelling that advances over a few weeks but can also develop in a few days.

History of Ascites

The origin of “ascites” seems to derive from Cornish translator and writer John Trevisa in 1398 from the Greek word “askos,” which means a bag. Historically, Egyptians noted the abnormal accumulation of abdominal fluid and related it to liver disease. Other notations occurred in 250 B.C. and 20 B.C. when Aulus Cornelius Celsus, a Roman, noted it in his book with the administration of paracentesis, the draining of the excess water from the abdominal cavity. Paul of Aegina, 7th century A.D., treated the condition with a copper tube but warned of avoiding rapid removal of the fluid. (x) Ludwig van Beethoven underwent treatment for the disease and died two days after receiving paracentesis. (x) Today, there are many treatments for ascites but it’s best to change your lifestyle and approach the health concern by alleviating discomfort through natural treatments prescribed by your medical doctor. (x) (x)

Why Do People Get Ascites?

When you undergo severe liver disease, ascites, and liver damage often occur. Some known causes of liver damage include cirrhosis, hepatitis B or C, and alcohol abuse. The leading cause of ascites is, in fact, liver cirrhosis. Once it occurs, cirrhosis causes a blockage of blood circulation through the liver. This blockage causes portal hypertension — an increase in pressure in the portal vein that transports blood from the gut to the liver. Once this pressure builds up, it is hard for kidneys to get rid of excess salt from the body, resulting in a fluid buildup in the abdomen, causing ascites. (x)

Symptoms and Side Effects of Ascites

Symptoms of ascites may manifest slowly or immediately, depending on the underlying cause of the fluid accumulation. Ascites can cause a lot of discomfort because of your distended abdomen. Individuals suffering from ascites may experience symptoms such as nausea, (x) heartburn, (x) indigestion, (x) and loss of appetite. (x)

The pressure exerted on organs within the abdominal area can also cause a swollen stomach, fatigue, bloating, breathlessness, and the need to pass urine often. Other symptoms include swelling of the lower legs and ankles, rapid weight gain, and hemorrhoids. (x)

Discuss these symptoms with your medical practitioner since some of these symptoms stem from other health conditions besides ascites. It may not be that serious. 

Types of Ascites

Based on the quantity of protein in the fluid, there are two types of ascites described below. Another classification system depends on the amount of albumin (simple water-soluble) found in the ascitic fluid compared to serum albumin (protein generated by the liver.) (x) (x) The two types of ascites are:

Transudative ascites — causes include hepatic cirrhosis, alcoholic hepatitis, heart failure, and hepatic failure

Exudative ascites — causes include peritoneal carcinomatosis, peritonitis, and inflammation of the pancreas or biliary system.

Dangers Associated with Ascites

Ascites can cause many health issues. For example, it is not uncommon if bleeding from the lower intestine occurs. (x) Kidney failure also manifests, as have malnutrition and malignancy. (x) (x) (x)

Diagnosing Ascites

A doctor can diagnose ascites by performing a physical exam or questioning a patient about their symptoms. The doctor may do some tests to examine the abdomen, (x) including:

  1. Ultrasound

The doctor uses sound waves to create a picture showing the inside of the abdomen. (x)

  1. X-rays 

These are crucial diagnostic imaging tools that help examine fluid accumulation in the lungs. (x)

  1. Computerized Tomography scan, known as a CT scan 

It produces a 3-dimensional photo of the internal body organs using X-rays. (x)

  1. MRI scans

Radiologists apply Magnetic Resonate Imaging when ultrasounds cannot reveal the cause of ascites. (x)

  1. Blood tests 

Doctors carry out these tests to evaluate the functioning of kidneys and liver. (x)

Causes of Ascites

  1. Cirrhosis

Medical science has found that the most common causes of ascites stem from advanced liver disease, which is the liver tissue’s impairment, then replaced by fibrosis or scar tissue. The liver forms the scar tissue as it tries to restore itself when it’s injured. Doctors consider this to be cirrhosis that leads to the liver’s dysfunction, scarring of the liver, bleeding, and accumulation of fluid in the abdomen. (x) Cirrhosis has no severe symptoms, but ascites can occur once the disorder has advanced. One of the most common complications of cirrhosis is ascites.

  1. Hepatitis B or C

People usually contract hepatitis B and C through unprotected sex. It is also possible to get it through contact with infected blood. A person infected with hepatitis B can develop severe damage to the liver. They then develop liver inflammation, which may cause cirrhosis or interfere with blood flow through the organ. About 350 million people live with hepatitis B, while approximately 3.9 million Americans currently live with hepatitis C. Doctors treat these two diseases with antiviral drug therapies. (x)

  1. Alcohol Abuse

Drinking high quantities of alcohol is one of the most common causes of ascites. Too much alcohol can cause alcohol-related liver disease. It makes the liver sensitive and swollen. Alcohol abuse causes alcohol hepatitis or inflammation of the liver. Some alcohol-related liver disease symptoms include nausea, fatigue, swollen legs, jaundice, and weight loss. Once inflammation occurs, there is a likelihood that the liver will not carry out its normal function, such as getting rid of toxins from the body. Blood purification will also not take place as it should. This then interferes with normal waste excretion from the body, which will cause ascites. (x) (x)

Other Causes

Determining other causes of ascites is based on the various diagnostic procedures that reveal the disease within the below health conditions: (x)

  1. Pericarditis

Refers to the chronic inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the heart, the pericardium. The pericardium loses its elasticity over time and becomes rigid. If not treated, it can be life-threatening. A rigid pericardium can cause symptoms of heart complications such as heart failure. Constrictive pericarditis is a cause of recurrent ascites and refractory ascites. (x)

  1. Ovarian Cancer

Women with advanced ovarian cancer are likely to have ascites. One reason fluid can develop in their abdomen is that once the cancer cells advance to the abdominal wall, they can cause irritation or inflammation, causing fluid buildup. (x) (x)

  1. Liver Cancer

People with liver cancer can develop ascites for many reasons. The cancer cells may spread to the thin membrane that envelops the peritoneum’s inner wall and then irritate this membrane. Liver cancer also causes the liver to manufacture less albumin, which may interfere with the body’s fluid balance.

  1. Pancreatic Cancer

This type of cancer can cause fluid to build up in the tummy area. Because of abnormal behavior from cells, lumps or tumors can form, traveling through the bloodstream into the lymphatic system and other parts of the body.

  1. Tumors

These can also cause ascites by blocking the lymphatic system, interfering with the lymphatic fluid’s normal flow. The fluid subsequently collects in the abdominal organs. (x)

Ascites mostly develop with uterine, cervical, ovarian, gastric, pancreatic, or any cancer that spreads to the liver.

Ascites Symptoms

Ascites Remedies and Supplements

Approaching alternative or natural remedies are considered as the ultimate solution. If you have any diseases that may turn into ascites, you might want to start a natural treatment program to fortify your body and make lifestyle changes for the better. Visit your doctor to determine which natural treatment is the best for your health concern. (x)

  1. Coconut Water

Coconut water is rich in potassium and several other electrolytes necessary for the body to stay adequately hydrated. (x) The water is ideal for relaxing the liver, which reduces the swelling while also purifying the blood. Coconut water also helps to control body temperature and encourages frequent urination. It is best to mix 1 tbsp of coconut powder into water, smoothies, and drinks.

  1. Dandelion Root

Consumption of dandelion root notably raises the urinary frequency and quantity in less than five hours of the initial dosage. (x) People take dandelion root as an herbal diuretic packed with vitamins A, C, and K and potassium. Dandelion root even helps in the treatment of liver inflammation and congestion. (x) Patients can consume dandelion tea or add dandelion stems to their salad.

The suggested serving size for Dandelion root is 1,000 mg (rounded 1/3 tsp) twice daily, or as otherwise directed by a physician.

  1. Avoid Salt and Eat Organic Foods

Your body naturally contains sodium and needs a balanced amount of potassium to help your body function properly. (x) Though people experiencing ascites should not eat foods with high sodium content. High amounts of sodium lead to fluid accretion. (x) A study performed in China proved restricting sodium intake only applies to certain related ascites health conditions and doesn’t always apply to all cases. The study also noted that patients with a particular ascites related disease already had sodium assimilation problems with their bodies for the health condition. (x)

Eating organic foods such as fruit, vegetables, millet, poultry, seafood, and red meat will positively affect your body. Food without chemicals or pesticides is healthier for your body. 

Other Remedies and Supplements

Discovering other remedies and supplements to treat your health concern is a positive approach to healing or maintaining your well-being and overall health.  Consider these additional solutions:

  1. Garlic 

It’s one of the best home remedies for treating ascites. It also reduces blood pressure. (x)

  1. Onion

It has diuretic properties that can help get rid of toxic fluid that builds up in the abdomen. It increases the frequency of urination. (x)

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Traditional Treatments for Ascites

Treatment for ascites varies depending on the cause of the condition. Studying the various options may prove fruitful while using alternative methods. Always discuss this with your physician. Traditional treatment methods include:

  1. Diuretics

Also known as ‘water pills,’ patients commonly use diuretics to treat ascites, especially if they cannot respond to sodium restrictions. Diuretics help minimize the pressure around the liver or inside the veins. During this form of ascites treatment, you should reduce their alcohol and salt intake. (x)

  1. Paracentesis

This involves the draining of fluids using a needle. Doctors then analyze the fluid to find the cause of ascites. It is an effective ascites management method where there is an enormous amount of fluid. The fluid can be between 5 liters and 10 liters. Doctors will perform a paracentesis mainly to relieve the pressure within the abdominal organs. You can feel little or no discomfort. (x)

  1. Shunts

Doctors will perform this surgery if you have an extreme case of ascites. It involves the insertion and implanting of a tube (shunt) in the body. The purpose of the shunt is to redirect the blood flow within the liver. Good flow of blood within the body ensures that organs can reach their optimal level of functionality. It improves kidney function, which then helps eliminate excess salt from the body and stops the fluid buildup. Doctors can also place the tube through the liver to relieve portal hypertension. (x) (x)

  1. Liver Transplant

Doctors mainly reserve this approach for patients whose livers are failing from severe cirrhosis. Though uncommon, some patients often experience persistent ascites after the transplant. (x) (x)

Preventing Ascites

  • You can lower the risks by practicing healthy living habits that protect the liver.
  • Moderate alcohol consumption. This protects against cirrhosis.
  • Medications may have side effects that cause-and-effect symptoms. Be wary of potential side effects that may result from them.
  • You must desist from intravenous drug use.
  • Always practice safe sex.

The Bottom Line

Ascites is a condition that results from different health-related complications. You can treat or even avoid these complications to prevent ascites altogether. 

Living a healthy lifestyle, eating organic foods, and taking natural supplements to avoid the disease is the best practice. 

However, if you already have ascites, you can follow several options to prevent it from getting worse and treat it. Be sure to visit a doctor if you believe you may suffer from ascites.

The statements in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Author: BulkSupplements Staff