Health Information and Tools >  Cirrhosis – What is a paracentesis?
Facebook Tweet Email Share

Main Content

Paracentesis is a procedure that uses a needle to drain fluid from the abdomen or belly.

This fluid buildup, called ascites, can be caused by many different conditions.

In this video, we'll talk about having a paracentesis to drain ascites caused by cirrhosis.

If you have ascites, you may have pain, feel short of breath, or have trouble eating because your belly feels full.

If you have these symptoms, your healthcare team might suggest a paracentesis to remove a large amount of the fluid from your belly.

Or, they might want to collect a fluid sample for testing.

Paracentesis usually happens at a hospital.

Before your procedure, the doctor or nurse practitioner will check your belly for a good spot to insert the needle.

They'll do this by tapping on your belly or by ultrasound, where sound waves are used to show a picture of the fluid. 

When they've chosen the best spot, they might use a needle to put freezing medicine under your skin.

This will numb the area and should make you more comfortable.

But you may still feel a very brief, sharp pain during the procedure.

Next, they'll insert a needle to drain the fluid.

If there's a lot of fluid, they'll drain it into containers connected to the needle by a small tube.  They might ask you to change position to help drain the fluid more easily.

When your fluid has finished draining, the team will remove the needle and bandage the spot.

If you had a lot of fluid, your doctor or nurse practitioner might prescribe a protein called albumin.

You take albumin through an intravenous, or IV, which is a small tube or needle put in a vein.

It lowers your risk of problems from the drainage.

They might also send your fluid to the lab to make sure you don't have an infection.

You'll likely be at the hospital anywhere from 2 hours to a full day.

It depends on how much fluid you have drained and how much albumin you need. 

If your fluid comes back showing you have an infection, you'll probably be admitted to the hospital for treatment.

This is not common, but it can happen.

After the procedure, keep your bandage on for 24 hours.

Then, you can remove it and have a shower.

You can wash the needle site gently with soap and warm water.  

You might feel sore for a few days, but you can go back to your normal activities unless your nurse or doctor gives you other instructions.

Just like any medical procedure, paracentesis has risks you should know about.

In rare cases, infection, bleeding, or a tear in the lining of the intestine can happen.

If you get belly pain, fever, bleeding, or fluid is leaking from the needle site, call your doctor or nurse or go to the emergency department right away.

If you have ascites, it's very important to eat less salt.

This helps slow down the fluid buildup in your belly and give you more time until your next paracentesis.​

Some people need a paracentesis only once. Others need one every week or 2. Your healthcare team will work with you to decide how often is best for you.

We understand you may have many thoughts and feelings about having a paracentesis.

Remember, your healthcare team is here to support you.

Reach out to them if you have questions.

To learn more, visit cirrhosiscare.ca or MyHealth.Alberta.ca.