Review Article | Published:

Refractory Ascites in Liver Cirrhosis

The American Journal of Gastroenterology (2018) | Download Citation



Ascites, a common complication of liver cirrhosis, eventually becomes refractory to diuretic therapy and sodium restriction in ~10% of patients. Multiple pathogenetic factors are involved in the development of refractory ascites, which ultimately lead to renal hypoperfusion and avid sodium retention. Therefore, renal dysfunction commonly accompanies refractory ascites. Management includes continuation of sodium restriction, which needs frequent reviews for adherence; and regular large volume paracentesis of 5 L or more with albumin infusions to prevent the development of paracentesis-induced circulatory dysfunction. In the appropriate patients with reasonable liver reserve, the insertion of a transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic stent shunt (TIPS) can be considered, especially if the patient is relatively young and has no previous hepatic encephalopathy or anatomical contraindications, and no past history of renal or cardiopulmonary disease. Response to TIPS with ascites clearance can lead to nutritional improvement. Devices such as an automated low-flow ascites pump may be available in the future for ascites treatment. Patients with refractory ascites and poor liver function and/or renal dysfunction, should be referred for liver transplant, as this will eliminate the portal hypertension and liver dysfunction. Renal dysfunction prior to liver transplant largely improves after transplant without affecting post-transplant survival.

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  1. Division of Gastroenterology, Department of Medicine, Toronto General Hospital, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada

    • Danielle Adebayo BSc (Hons) MBBS, MRCP
    • , Shuet Fong Neong MBBS, MRCP
    •  & Florence Wong MBBS, MD, FRACP, FRCPC


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