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Treatment of ascites in cirrhosis. Diuretics, peritoneovenous shunt, and large-volume paracentesis.

The medical treatment of ascites in cirrhosis is based on sodium restriction and the administration of diuretics. Because the natriuretic potency of spironolactone is greater than that of loop diuretics (i.e., furosemide) in patients with marked sodium retention, spironolactone is the basic drug for the treatment of ascites. The simultaneous administration of spironolactone and furosemide increases the natriuretic effect of each drug and diminishes their effects on potassium metabolism. Recent studies indicate that large-volume paracentesis associated with intravenous albumin infusion is more effective than diuretic therapy in eliminating the ascitic fluid; is associated with a lower incidence of complications (hepatic encephalopathy, renal impairment, and hyponatremia); and considerably reduces the duration of hospital stay. Therapeutic paracentesis associated with intravenous albumin infusion is therefore the treatment of choice for cirrhotic patients with tense ascites. The mobilization of the ascitic fluid by paracentesis without plasma volume expansion is constantly associated with a deterioration of effective circulating blood volume and may induce renal impairment and severe hyponatremia. Dextran 70 and polygeline appear as effective as albumin in preventing these abnormalities. Cirrhotic patients treated with paracentesis require the administration of diuretics to avoid reaccumulation of ascites. Peritoneovenous shunt, a prosthesis capable to correct most abnormalities involved in the accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity, is an effective treatment of ascites in cirrhosis. It is especially indicated in patients who do not respond to diuretics and develop repeated episodes of ascites despite adequate treatment. The use of peritoneovenous shunting is limited by the high incidence of complications induced by the procedure, however. In addition, approximately 40% of patients develop an obstruction of the prosthesis within the first postoperative year.

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