What Are the Symptoms of Ascites?

Meshell Powell

Some patients may not experience any negative symptoms of ascites, an abnormal accumulation of fluid within the abdominal lining. Those who do experience symptoms may complain of abdominal swelling or discomfort, shortness of breath, and weight gain. Additional symptoms may include constipation, fatigue, or swelling of the ankles. Treatment for the various symptoms of ascites vary, but may include the use of medications, lifestyle changes, or the insertion of a catheter to remove some of the excess fluid.

The feeling of discomfort and swelling in the abdomen are symptoms of ascites.
The feeling of discomfort and swelling in the abdomen are symptoms of ascites.

Symptoms of ascites are not always present, especially in mild cases. As the condition progresses, abdominal discomfort or bloating may occur. The abdominal pressure may cause a loss of appetite or a premature feeling of fullness when eating. In spite of the decreased appetite, the size of the waist may begin to increase, causing clothes to no longer fit properly. Some people may even begin to gain weight due to the accumulation of excess fluid buildup in the abdominal lining, also known as the peritoneum.

An ultrasound can be used to confirm ascites.
An ultrasound can be used to confirm ascites.

Digestive problems may develop as potential symptoms of ascites. These digestive disturbances often include nausea, constipation, or indigestion. As the fluid continues to accumulate, respiratory issues may occur. The patient may experience shortness of breath or feel that there is a heavy weight sitting on the chest. Breathing deeply may become painful or difficult in those with an excess accumulation of fluid.

In the more severe cases, the various symptoms of ascites may prevent the patient from performing normal everyday activities such as walking or bending over to pick up an object from the floor. If symptoms become this severe, the patient should contact a doctor so that potential treatment options can be discussed. In many cases, an over-the-counter or prescription diuretic can be used to flush out some of the excess fluid through the process of urination.

As the symptoms of ascites are frequently caused by serious medical conditions such as cancer, it is important to diagnose and treat any underlying medical conditions instead of focusing only on the symptoms. Some people with this condition may benefit from frequent bouts of bed rest, making sure to elevate the feet above the head. A medical procedure known as paracentesis may be used to drain some of the excess fluid, although this is only a temporary solution. If a tumor is present, surgical intervention to remove the mass is often recommended.

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