Ascites is a common complication of liver cirrhosis associated with a poor prognosis. The treatment of ascites requires dietary sodium restriction and the judicious use of distal and loop diuretics, sequential at an earlier stage of ascites, and a combination at a later stage of ascites. The diagnosis of refractory ascites requires the demonstration of diuretic non-responsiveness, despite dietary sodium restriction, or the presence of diuretic-related complications. Patients with refractory ascites require second-line treatments of repeat large-volume paracentesis (LVP) or the insertion of a transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS), and assessment for liver transplantation. Careful patient selection is paramount for TIPS to be successful as a treatment for ascites. Patients not suitable for TIPS insertion should receive LVP. The use of albumin as a volume expander is recommended for LVP of >5-6 L to prevent the development of circulatory dysfunction, although the clinical significance of post-paracentesis circulatory dysfunction is still debated. Significant mortality is still being observed in cirrhotic patients with ascites and relatively preserved liver and renal function, as indicated by a lower Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) score. It is proposed that patients with lower MELD scores and ascites should receive additional points in calculating their priority for liver transplantation. Potential new treatment options for ascites include the use of various vasoconstrictors, vasopressin V(2) receptor antagonists, or the insertion of a peritoneo-vesical shunt, all of which could possibly improve the management of ascites.
© 2011 Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology Foundation and Blackwell Publishing Asia Pty Ltd.