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Ascites: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

Ascites (say "uh-SY-teez") is a buildup of extra fluid in the belly. It can cause your belly to swell. It can also make it hard for you to breathe.

Many diseases can cause ascites. But most people who get it have a liver problem. When the liver gets damaged, it can cause fluid to back up from the liver or from blood vessels. Then this fluid builds up in the belly.

Your doctor may take a sample of the fluid in your belly with a thin needle. The sample is then tested to help find out the cause of the ascites.

Treatment may include medicine. It may also include changing the way you eat so you don't eat a lot of salt. If your ascites is very bad and hard to treat, your doctor may need to use a needle to take out the fluid.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you have any problems with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • Eat low-salt foods, and don't add salt to your food. If you eat a lot of salt, it's harder to get rid of the extra fluid. Salt is in many prepared foods. These include bacon, canned foods, snack foods, sauces, and soups. Look for products that are low-sodium or have reduced salt.
  • Do not drink any alcohol until you are all better. Alcohol will damage the liver more. If your liver disease is caused by drinking alcohol, do not drink alcohol at all. Tell your doctor if you need help to quit. Counselling, support groups, and sometimes medicines can help you stay sober.
  • Talk to your doctor before you take any other medicines. These include over-the-counter medicines, and natural health products, such as vitamins, and herbal products.
  • Make sure your doctor knows all the medicines you take. Some medicines, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), can make liver problems worse.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You vomit blood or what looks like coffee grounds.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse belly pain.
  • You have a fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have any problems.
  • Your belly is getting bigger.
  • You are gaining weight.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.