Issue: 2007 > September > review

Ascites in cirrhosis: a review of management and complications

J.J. Kuiper, H.R. van Buuren, R.A. de Man


Ascites is the most common manifestation in cirrhotic
patients, and is associated with a reduced survival rate.
Management of ascites is primarily focused on sodium
restriction and diuretic treatment to which most patients
respond appropriately. For the small group of patients
who do not respond sufficiently, interventions such as
large volume paracentesis and transjugular intrahepatic
portosystemic shunt placement should be considered.
Most important in the management of cirrhotic patients
with ascites is prevention of complications. Spontaneous
bacterial peritonitis and hepatorenal syndrome are severe complications with a poor prognosis when not detected and treated in an early stage. In all hospitalised patients with ascites, an infection of the ascitic fluid should be ruled out. For those patients at risk of developing spontaneous bacterial peritonitis, in particular patients after a first episode and patients with gastrointestinal bleeding, antibiotic prophylaxis should be given. To prevent the hepatorenal syndrome, substitution with albumin is essential, both in patients who experience an episode of spontaneous bacterial peritonitis and in patients treated with large volume paracentesis. For those patients unresponsive to standard treatment regimens, liver transplantation may be the only suitable treatment option.