Health Information and Tools >  Cirrhosis - Ascites and pleural effusion
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Ascites.

That's the medical term for fluid build-up in the abdomen, your belly.

This can happen to people with scarring in the liver, called cirrhosis.

For some people, the fluid can move up to the space around the lungs.

That's called pleural effusion.

Let's look at what causes this fluid build-up.

Blood usually flows from the portal vein into the liver, like water from a hose pouring into a sponge.

But if the sponge gets hard like a rock, water can't flow in as easily, and pressure builds in the hose.

Just like the hose and the rock, pressure in the portal vein builds when the liver hardens.

When the pressure gets too high, fluid leaks out and builds in your belly.

It can also move up to the space around your lungs.

This can be uncomfortable and make it hard to eat and breathe.

If you have fluid build-up, your healthcare team will ask you to lower the amount of salt (or sodium) in your diet.

You should take in less than 2000 mg each day.

This will help lessen your fluid build-up.

Your team might also prescribe water pills, called diuretics, to help you get rid of extra fluid when you pee.

Diuretics can have side effects, so you'll need to get regular blood tests and keep track of your weight.

This will help your team see how you're doing and decide if they need to adjust your diuretics.

Let them know if you're dizzy, not peeing much, or losing weight quickly.

If you have a lot of fluid build-up, you might need it drained with a needle.

For ascites (fluid in the belly), this procedure is called a paracentesis.

And for fluid around the lungs, it's called a thoracentesis.

You might need fluid drained just once, or you might need it done every week or 2.

Sometimes bacteria can grow in the fluid, causing a dangerous infection.

Watch for a fever, sharp pain in your belly or chest, feeling sick to your stomach and throwing up.

If you have any of these symptoms, call your doctor or nurse right away or go to the emergency department.

We understand that you may have many thoughts and feelings after being diagnosed with cirrhosis.

Remember, your healthcare team is here to support you. Please let them know if you have questions.

To learn more about cirrhosis, visit cirrhosiscare.ca or MyHealth.Alberta.ca.​