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Ascites is the buildup of fluid in the space between the lining of the abdomen and abdominal organs (the peritoneal cavity).
The organs of the abdomen are contained in a sac or membrane called the peritoneum. Normally the peritoneal cavity contains no fluid, although in women a small amount (20ml, or less than an ounce) can occasionally be found depending on the menstrual cycle. Ascites is the term used to denote a fluid collection in the peritoneal cavity, a situation that is not normal.
Ascites results from high pressure in the blood vessels of the liver (portal hypertension) and low levels of a protein called albumin.
Diseases that can cause severe liver damage can lead to ascites. These include long-term Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C infection and alcohol abuse over many years.
People with certain cancers in the abdomen may develop ascites. These include cancer of the colon, ovaries, uterus, pancreas, and liver.
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