Management of refractory ascites

Shashideep Singhal, Kiran K. Baikati, Ibrahim I. Jabbour, Sury Anand

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Ascites that does not respond or recurs after high-dose diuresis and sodium restriction should be considered refractory ascites. As cirrhosis advances, the escaping fluid overwhelms the lymphatic return. Decrease in renal plasma flow leads to increased sodium reabsorption at the proximal tubule leading to decreased responsiveness to loop diuretics and mineralocorticoid antagonists, which work distally. These complex hemodynamic alterations lead to refractory ascites. In refractory ascites, high-dose diuresis (400 mg of spironolactone and 160 mg of furosemide) and sodium restriction (<90 mmol/d) result in inadequate weight loss and sub optimal sodium excretion (<78 mmol/d). Further use of diuretics is limited by complications such as encephalopathy, azotemia, renal insufficiency, hyponatremia, and hyperkalemia. Therapy for refractory ascites is limited. The available therapies are repeated large volume paracentesis (LVP), transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunts, peritoneovenous shunts, investigational medical therapies, and liver transplantation. LVP with concomitant volume expanders is the initial treatment of choice. Transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic seems to be superior to LVP in reducing the need for repeated paracentesis and improves the quality of life. Several treatments that act at different steps in the pathogenesis of ascites are investigational, and some show promising results. Splanchnic and peripheral vasoconstrictors (Octreotide, Midodrine, and Terlipressin) increase effective arterial volume and decrease activation of the renin-angiotensin system with resultant increase in renal sodium excretion. Clonidine when given with spironolactone has been shown to cause rapid mobilization of ascites by significantly decreasing the sympathetic activity and renin-aldosterone levels. Natural aquaretics and synthetic V2 receptor antagonists (satavaptan) are being evaluated for mobilization of ascites by increasing the excretion of solute-free water. Liver transplantation remains the only definitive therapy for refractory ascites. Because refractory ascites is a poor prognostic sign, liver transplantation should be considered and incorporated early in the treatment plan.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-132
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Therapeutics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • ascites
  • cirrhosis
  • diuretics
  • refractory
  • TIPS


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