Ascites: pathogenesis and therapeutic principles

Scand J Gastroenterol. 2009;44(8):902-11. doi: 10.1080/00365520902912555.


Ascites is a classic complication of advanced cirrhosis and it often marks the first sign of hepatic decompensation. Ascites occurs in more than 50% of patients with cirrhosis, worsens the course of the disease, and reduces survival substantially. Portal hypertension, splanchnic vasodilatation, liver insufficiency, and cardiovascular dysfunction are major pathophysiological hallmarks. Modern treatment of ascites is based on this recognition and includes modest salt restriction and stepwise diuretic therapy with spironolactone and loop-diuretics. Tense and refractory ascites should be treated with large volume paracentesis followed by plasma volume expansion or transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt. Ascites complicated by spontaneous bacterial peritonitis requires adequate treatment with antibiotics. New potential treatment strategies include the use of vasopressin V(2)-receptor antagonists and vasoconstrictors. Since formation of ascites is associated with a poor prognosis, and treatment of fluid retention does not substantially improve survival, such patients should always be considered for liver transplantation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ascites / etiology
  • Ascites / physiopathology*
  • Ascites / therapy*
  • Humans