Ascites (pronounced a-sigh –tees) means fluid collection in the belly or abdomen. It is derived from the Greek word ‘askos’ which means sack or bag. The patient shows the presence of a huge and tense abdomen. He may suffer from other problems like breathlessness as well.
The most common cause of Ascites is a liver condition called cirrhosis. When the liver is damaged due to any cause, it tries to adapt till the insult to the liver reaches a stage where the destruction to the liver tissue is irreversible. The liver becomes lumpy and is filled with scar tissue. Over time, the liver becomes a nodular, shrunken mass which loses its function and is called a cirrhotic liver.
Blood is carried from the digestive tract to the liver via the portal vein. This flow is is hampered in cirrhosis, as a result of which a condition called portal hypertension occurs.
In certain cancers and in tuberculosis, ascitic fluid is present in the abdominal cavity as a result of involvement of the peritoneum or the lining of the abdomen by the disease process. The liver can be normal in these situations.
Complications of Ascites include infection, kidney failure, hepatic encephalopathy, hernias and pleural effusion.
Ascites is treated depending on the underlying cause. A low-salt diet and diuretics are recommended in patients with cirrhosis. Tapping of the excess fluid is carried out while taking adequate precautions to prevent any complications. Some patients require liver transplantation. Patients with cancer may require chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery.
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