1Department of Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, University Health Network, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Standard of care for the treatment of ascites in cirrhosis is to administer a sodium-restricted diet and diuretic therapy. The progression of cirrhosis will eventually lead to the development of refractory ascites, at which point diuretics will no longer be able to control the ascites. Second-line therapies such as a transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS) placement or repeat large volume paracentesis are then required. There is some evidence that regular infusions of albumin may delay the onset of refractoriness and improve survival, especially if given at an early stage in the natural history of ascites and for a long enough duration. The use of TIPS can eliminate ascites, but its insertion is associated with complications, especially cardiac decompensation and worsening of hepatic encephalopathy. New information is now available regarding how to best select patients for TIPS, what type of cardiac investigations are needed and how under-dilating the TIPS at the time of insertion may help. The use of a non-absorbable antibiotics, such as rifaximin, starting in the pre-TIPS period may also reduce the likelihood of post-TIPS hepatic encephalopathy. In patients who are not suitable for TIPS, the use of an alfapump to remove the ascites via the bladder can improve quality of life without significantly altering survival. In the future it may be possible to use metabolomics to help refine the management of patients with ascites, e.g. to assess their response to non-selective beta-blockers or to predict the development of other complications such as acute kidney injury.