Translating Our Current Understanding of Ascites Management into New Therapies for Patients with Cirrhosis and Fluid Retention

Elisa Pose, Andres Cardenas
Digestive Diseases 2017, 35 (4): 402-410
Ascites is the most common complication associated with cirrhosis resulting in poor quality of life, high risk of development of other complications of cirrhosis, increased morbidity and mortality associated with surgical interventions, and poor long-term outcome. Patients with cirrhosis and a first onset of ascites, have a probability of survival of 85% during the first year and 56% at 5 years without liver transplantation. Ascites is caused due to increased renal sodium retention as a result of increased activity of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system in response to marked vasodilation of the splanchnic circulation. The practical management of ascites involves the proper evaluation of a patient with a thorough history and physical exam. In addition, complete laboratory, ascitic fluid, and radiological tests should be performed. One of the most important steps in the initial assessment of patients with ascites is to refer the appropriate candidates for liver transplantation, as it offers a definitive cure for cirrhosis and its complications. While the initial management of uncomplicated ascites with low sodium diet and diuretic treatment is straightforward in a majority of patients, approximately 10% of patients fail to respond to diuretics and become a real therapeutic challenge. The initial treatment of choice in patients with refractory ascites is large-volume paracentesis (LVP) associated with intravenous albumin; some patients also benefit from transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunts (TIPS). When repeated LVP or TIPS cannot be performed, other approaches using vasoconstrictors such as midodrine can be considered although data are scarce. A newly designed automated low flow pump system (Alfapump), which is designed to move ascites from the peritoneal cavity to the urinary bladder where it is eliminated spontaneously through diuresis is promising, but the data are also limited and safety is still a matter of concern. This article focuses on the practical aspects of the evaluation and treatment of patients with ascites and cirrhosis and also discusses how to translate our current understanding of ascites pathophysiology into new treatment methods for patients with fluid retention.

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