Review article: Management of ascites and associated complications in patients with cirrhosis

J J Kuiper, R A de Man, H R van Buuren
Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics 2007, 26 Suppl 2: 183-93

BACKGROUND: Ascites is the most common complication of cirrhosis, associated with an expected survival below 50% after 5 years. Prognosis is particularly poor for patients with refractory ascites and for those developing complications, including spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (SBP) and hepatorenal syndrome (HRS).

AIM: To provide an evidence-based overview of the pathophysiology, diagnosis and clinical management of ascites secondary to liver cirrhosis.

METHODS: Review based on relevant medical literature.

RESULTS: Portal hypertension, splanchnic vasodilatation and renal sodium retention are fundamental in the pathophysiology of ascites formation. The SAAG (serum-ascites albumin gradient) allows reliable assessment of the cause of ascites. The majority of cirrhotic patients with ascites can be managed with dietary sodium restriction in combination with diuretic agents. Large volume paracentesis with albumin suppletion and TIPS are therapeutic options in patients with refractory ascites. Prophylactic antibiotics for SBP should be given in certain patient populations.

CONCLUSIONS: Recent advances in the diagnosis and treatment of ascites and associated complications have improved the medical management and poor prognosis of patients with these manifestations of advanced liver disease. Early diagnosis, adequate treatment and focus on prevention of complications remain essential as well as timely referral for liver transplantation.

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