Treatment of ascites

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Opinion statement

Ascites is the most common complication of cirrhosis and occurs in more than half of all patients with cirrhosis. The development of ascites indicates progression of the underlying cirrhosis and is associated with a 50% 2-year survival rate. Conventional therapies used for the treatment of ascites include sodium restriction (<88 mmol/d), diuretics, and large volume paracentesis (LVP) (>5 L). The most effective diuretic combination is that of a potassium-sparing, distal-acting diuretic (eg, spironolactone) with a loop diuretic (eg, furosemide). LVP provides rapid resolution of symptoms with minimal complications and is well tolerated by most patients. Post-paracentesis circulatory dysfunction (PPCD) may occur after LVP and is characterized by hyponatremia, azotemia, and an increase in plasma renin activity. PPCD is associated with an increased mortality and may be prevented by administration of albumin intravenously (6 to 8 g/L of ascites removed) along with LVP. The development of either diuretic-resistant or diuretic-intractable ascites occurs in approximately 5% to 10 % of all cases of ascites. This is a poor prognostic sign, as 50% of such patients die within 6 months of its development. The only definitive therapy for refractory ascites with cirrhosis is orthotopic liver transplantation. The other options that are available include LVP, peritoneovenous shunts, and transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunts (TIPS). The TIPS procedure has not been shown to have any influence on survival in patients with cirrhosis and refractory ascites, and TIPS is contraindicated in patients who have advanced liver failure because it can hasten death in such individuals. Peritoneovenous shunts are associated with a high incidence of complications and frequent occlusion. They are, therefore, rarely used for refractory ascites. Spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (SBP) is a common complication of cirrhotic ascites. It may precipitate hepatorenal syndrome. The overall mortality rate from an episode of SBP is approximately 20%. Following an episode of SBP, the 1-year mortality rate approaches 70%. Hospitalized patients should be treated with intravenous third-generation cephalosporins (eg, cefotaxime), and patients at risk should receive prophylaxis with either orally administered quinolones (eg, norfloxacin) or cotrimoxazole.