Paracentesis is a minimally invasive procedure using a needle to remove fluid from the abdomen.


There are two reasons to take fluid out of the abdomen. One is to analyze it for diagnostic purposes; the other is to relieve pressure. Liquid that accumulates in the abdomen is called ascites. Ascites seeps out of organs for several reasons related either to disease in the organ or fluid pressures that are changing.

Liver disease

All the blood flowing through the intestines passes through the liver on its way back to the heart. When progressive disease such as alcohol damage or hepatitis destroys enough liver tissue, the scarring that results shrinks the liver and constricts blood flow. Such scarring of the liver is called cirrhosis. Pressure builds in the intestinal blood circulation, slowing flow and pushing fluid into the surrounding tissues. Slowly the fluid accumulates in areas with the lowest pressure and greatest capacity. The free space around abdominal organs receives the greatest amount. This space is called the peritoneal space because it is enclosed by a thin membrane called the peritoneum. The peritoneum wraps around nearly every organ in the abdomen, providing many folds and spaces for the fluid to gather.


Peritonitis is an infection of the peritoneum that can develop in several ways. Many abdominal organs contain germs that do not occur elsewhere in the body. If they spill their contents into the peritoneum, infection is the result. Infection changes the dynamics of body fluids, causing them to seep into tissues and spaces. The gall bladder, the stomach, any part of the intestine, and most especially the appendix—all cause peritonitis when they leak or rupture. Tuberculosis can infect many organs in the body; it is not confined to the lungs. Tuberculous peritonitis causes ascites.

Other inflammations

Peritoneal fluid is not just produced by infections. An inflamed pancreas, called pancreatitis, can cause a massive sterile peritonitis when it leaks its digestive enzymes into the abdomen.


Any cancer that begins in or spreads to the abdomen can leak fluid. One particular tumor of the ovary that leaks fluid and results in fluid accumulation is called
Meigs' syndrome.

Kidney disease

Since the kidneys are intimately involved with the body's fluid balance, diseases of the kidney often cause excessive fluid to accumulate. Nephrosis and nephrotic syndrome are the general terms for diseases that cause the kidneys to retain water and promote its movement into body tissues and spaces.

Heart failure

The ultimate source of fluid pressure in the body is the heart, whose pumping generates blood pressure. All other pressures in the body are related to blood pressure. As the heart starts to fail, blood backs up, waiting to be pumped. This increases pressure in the veins leading to the heart, particularly below it where gravity is also pulling blood down. The extra fluid from heart failure is first noticed in the feet and ankles, where gravitational effects are most evident. In the abdomen, the liver swells first, then it and other abdominal organs start to leak.

Pleural fluid

The other major body cavity (besides the abdomen) is the chest. The tissue in the chest corresponding to the peritoneum is called the pleura, and the space contained within the pleura, between the ribs and the lungs, is called the pleural space. Fluid is often found in both cavities, and fluid from one cavity can find its way into the other.

Fluid that accumulates in the abdomen creates abnormal pressures on organs in the abdomen. Digestion is hindered; blood flow is slowed. Pressure upward on the chest from fluid-filled organs compromises breathing. The kidneys function poorly in the presence of such external pressures and may even fail.


During paracentesis, special needles puncture the abdominal wall, being careful not to hit internal organs. If fluid is needed only for analysis, less than 7 oz (200 ml) are removed. If pressure relief is an additional goal, many quarts may be removed. Rapid removal of large amounts of fluid can cause blood pressure to drop suddenly. For this reason, the physician will often leave a tube in place so that fluid can be removed slowly, giving the system time to adapt.

A related procedure called culpocentesis removes ascitic fluid from the very bottom of the abdominal cavity through the back of the vagina. This is used most often to diagnose female genital disorders like ectopic pregnancy, which may bleed or exude fluid into the peritoneal space.

Fluid is sent to the laboratory for testing, where cancer and blood cells can be detected, infections identified, and chemical analysis can direct further investigations.


An adhesive bandage and perhaps a single stitch close the insertion site. Nothing more is required.


Risks are negligible. It is remotely possible that an organ could be punctured and bleed or that an infection could be introduced.

Normal results

A diagnosis of the cause and/or relief from accumulated fluid pressure are the expected results. Fluid will continue to accumulate until the cause is corrected. Repeat procedures may be needed.



Chung, Raymond T. and Daniel K. Podolsky. "Cirrhosis and its Complications." In Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine , edited by Eugene Braunwald, et al. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001.

Henry, J. B. Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods . 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: W. B. Saunders Company, 2001.


Lehrer, Jennifer K. Abdominal tap—paracentesis . National Institutes of Health. January 1, 2003 [cited April 4, 2003]. .

"Paracentesis." American Thoracic Society. April, 2003 [cited April 4, 2003]. .

J. Ricker Polsdorfer, MD Mark A. Best, MD

User Contributions:

please help me eliminate this acitis, i am starting to have paracenticis almost weekly.this is no way to live. pleas help. sincere, michael
Please tell us how to stop the fluid from leaking out the holes in my husbands abdomen left from the two paracenticis procedures. The procedures were performed on the 19th and 27th of this month. The first procedure got infected and resulted in a 4 day hospital stay. Both incisions are leaking like a drippy faucet, big drops constantly.
Mr. and Ms. Gallegos
My daughter had invetro fertilization procedure yesterday.The fertilized egg was inplanted in her. She came home and was supposed to stay in bed for the next five days, then do things in moderation, until her next doctor visit on Dec.3rd. At 11pm last night she woke up in severe pain on her right side of her body, from the upper right chest to her groin area. She was in severe pain that she was unable to move from the bed to get into the bathroom and was having a hard time breathing. Her husband called 911. The took her to the Hospital Emergency and she is still there now as I write this but is due to be discharged this afternoon. They did all kinds of tests and blood work up and hurine analysis. They claim she has fluid going into her abdominal cavity. They said she should be seen on Monday by a physician but if the swelling gets bad or is in more pain to come back to the ER. What is happening to her and is it something life threatening? Please help me. I am very concerned. THank you.
I have what you describe as ascites which has caused me to gain 100 lbs. I am in horrible pain and cannot fuction bcause ofall the swelling. My stomach is gigantic and hangs down in an ugly protrusion.I look dformed and I cry 24/7 because I am in horrible pain. My doctor says I am too fat and need to exercise but when I walk I am dizzy. Sometimes the room spins to the left when I first awake from sleeping. What do I do besides take a long walk off a short pier. Miserable in Ma
My dad has cirrhosis of the liver and is going about every 10 days to have any where from 40-50 pounds of fluid removed. What is the stopping point of removing fluid as far as how often it can be done. What is done when when fluid can not be removed anymore? I understand my dad will eventually lose his life. My family are trying to figure out what to expect or what decisions need to be made. Please help with any info you can. We are all very confused and do not know what to do. Thank you
Mrs. Lang
does the color of fluid drawn indacate source of promlem
My nephew recently was admitted with what they thought was appendicitus, he was treated in the first instance with keyhole surgery, where they could not find his appendix at first, finally it was discovered hiding behind other organs and the surgeon told his mother that they had found fluid from an infection in his abdomen which they suspect has stemmed from an operation he had 5 years ago to bring down one of his testicles? Is it possible for an infection to have lain so long without discovery and what could be the cause of this fluid???
My friend has a heart the rest of her organs are becoming water soaked can anyone help
I hada procedure to clear a blockage in my leg. A lump formed & the blood was going into my leg tissue. How can I tell that they got the problem solved.
Kenneth crumpton
hello I had perentesis done 2 times a week sometime more cause I went into renal failure from walking pneumonia and cirrhosis from having a drinking prob so I was in ICU for some time. Got out in 2012 I've been okay sence then. One just wanted to tell people you can live through it keep Faith. One question is I've add CAT scans and MRIS done and I've noticed the doctors say I have scar tissue all through my abdomen from perentesis. Is there a way to get rid of the scar tissue from the perentesis so I may have surgery in the future.RGQQ

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