Free fluid in the abdomen, or ascites, is typically caused by cirrhosis, hepatitis B or C, or long-term or chronic alcohol use, according to Healthline. Ascites is most commonly the result of liver scarring, which increases the pressure on the vessels found in the liver, forcing fluid into the abdomen.
Several conditions can increase the risk of ascites development, including heart failure, kidney failure, hypothyroidism, tuberculosis and pancreatitis, according to Healthline. Symptoms of ascites can occur very suddenly or slowly depending on the cause. Common symptoms include diminished appetite, swelling of the abdomen, bloating, abdominal pain and sudden weight gain. Additional symptoms related to fluid in the abdomen include nausea and vomiting, heartburn and difficulty breathing when lying down.
To diagnose ascites, a physician checks for swelling of the abdomen, explains Healthline. Tests such as a CT scan, MRI, ultrasound or angiography are used to check for fluid. Diuretics are commonly used to treat fluid in the abdomen, although this method of treatment does not work as well in severe cases. In severe cases, it can be necessary to implant a permanent device called a shunt in the body, which is used to reroute the flow of blood around the liver. Ascites is not preventable, although getting vaccinated, drinking in moderation and practicing safe sex reduce one's risk of developing the condition.