Ascites can be called the condition in which there is abnormal accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity and the abdominal organs. The collection of fluids is in the ‘peritoneal’ cavity which is the membrane lining the abdominal organs. The Ascites condition may be due to cirrhosis of liver, trauma, appendicitis or some other underlying conditions. Due to the abnormal presence of fluids in the abdomen, the stomach looks like a ‘big round bag’.
Ascites is caused by chronic liver diseases and could be because of the following reasons:
- Low level of Albumin [a protein] in the blood.
- Increase in the pressure in the veins that run through the liver due to which fluid may rush out. This pressure is caused by Hypertension due to Scarring in Cirrhosis.
- Hepatitis or Jaundice.
- Kidney or heart failure.
- Fibrous hardening of the sac which houses the heart.
The signs and symptoms of Ascites are not displayed when there is minimum accumulation of fluid, but when there is substantial accumulation the followings signs are obvious:
- Rapid increase in weight.
- Discomfort and Distention in the Stomach.
- Shortness of breath, swelling of the ankles, stretching of skin on abdomen, light sound on tapping of stomach and bulging or flat navel.
Apart from the above mentioned symptoms, following are the tests which help diagnose Ascites:
- Computerized Tomography Scan or CT scan as it is popularly known so as to maximize images of the abdomen.
- The presence of a certain type of protein called Interferon which may lead to infection.
- Paracentesis where the fluid is drained out through an incision and the sample is studied.
- Ultra sonography where the sound waves are used to measure blood flow by applying a gel on the stomach and images are obtained on a monitor.
- Physical examinations used by a Doctor to differentiate Ascites from pregnancy, gas, obesity etc.
The types and severity of Ascites depends on some other underlying conditions, which may be:
Cirrhosis: Refers to the scarring of the liver tissues and which leads to certain diseases producing changes, when the kidney fails to flush out the excess production of Sodium in the urine. 80% of Ascites arise from this cause.
Cancer: Maybe Ascites is caused in 10% of the cases where it is a consequence of some other part which is affected by Cancer.
Pancreatic Ascites, Chylous Acsites are other reasons leading to formation of fluid leading to Ascites.
Endocrine and Renal Ascites are rare disorders, mostly occurring in women and caused when albumin level in the blood falls.
Ascites is curable but the condition which is causing Ascites has to be identified first to adopt the line of treatment to be followed. Mild or severe form of Ascites can be cured by reducing salt intake, Diuretics drugs, Paracentesis. But when the Ascites is caused by some other condition which is life threatening like hepatitis, cirrhosis, cancer etc., then first the underlying fatal condition has to be considered and then the proper line of treatment has to be taken.
If Cirrhosis is of the liver is due to excessive alcohol intake or exposure to copper, then the consumption of alcohol has to be stopped. But again here the extent of damage may decide the severity of the condition. Accordingly, the Cancer or any other causes if cured by treatment can reduce the severity of Ascites. If the damage to the liver is excessive, then the only option is Liver transplant, which unfortunately has more receivers than donors.
Ascites is caused by Cirrhosis in most of the cases which is caused by Alcohol consumption; the same should be had in moderation. Alcohol has a worse effect on women than men, so women have to drink less compared to men.
- Avoid Hepatitis by taking vaccination
- Avoid taking over the counter medications without the doctor’s advice.
- Do not share intravenous needles.
- Reduce Sodium intake by eating less salt.
- Taking of Diuretics as recommended by the Doctor.
Yes there are Doctors who treat Liver related Cirrhosis who are known as Hepatologists and who can treat you. If the Cirrhosis of liver is due to alcohol consumption then there are counselors and rehabilitation centers to wean you away from alcohol consumption.
After studying the causes and the underlying condition your Doctor may suggest the expert Doctor who can treat you. If Cancer is the cause of Ascites, then an Oncologist may be suggested.
The legendary Hindi film actress Meena Kumari died at a very young age of 40, due to Cirrhosis of the Liver. Meena Kumari was a gifted and talented actress right from her childhood and rose to stardom but was very sad in her heart and separation from her husband and other causes made her a heavy drinker. Excess alcohol consumption led to Cirrhosis and Ascites and subsequently to death. The damage to her liver could not be rectified.