My patient with jaundice complains of abdominal fullness. How useful is the history or physical exam when assessing for ascites?

Even in the age of ultrasound, history and physical exam can be useful in assessing for ascites.

History is a good place to start. Of all the questions we often ask when we suspect ascites (eg, increasing abdominal girth, weight gain and ankle swelling), lack of report of ankle swelling is probably the most helpful in excluding ascites (negative likelihood ratio [LR-], 0.1 in a study involving men), followed by no increase in abdominal girth (LR-, 0.17). Conversely, patient reported ankle swelling or increasing abdominal girth may be helpful in suspecting ascites (LR+ 4.12 and 2.8, respectively). 1

Of the various physical signs and maneuvers, absence of peripheral edema is highly associated with the lack of ascites, followed by lack of shifting dullness or fluid wave (LR-, 0.2, 0.3, 0.4, respectively). The presence of a fluid wave may be the most helpful in suspecting ascites, followed by peripheral edema, and shifting dullness (LR+ 6.0, 3.8, 2.7, respectively). 1  Relatively high sensitivities have been reported for shifting dullness (83-88%), while relatively high specificities have been reported for the fluid wave test (82-90%).2,3 An elevated INR may also improve the positive predictive value of shifting dullness and fluid waves.4

So if you don’t get a history of ankle edema and find no evidence of peripheral edema or shifting dullness on exam, the likelihood of ascites is pretty low. On the other hand, if you find a positive fluid wave, you can be pretty sure that the patient has ascites.

Of course, the actual likelihood of detecting ascites also depends on several other factors, including your pre-test probability and the volume of the ascites in the abdominal cavity, with at least ~500 ml of ascites necessary before it can be detected on exam (vs ~100 ml for ultrasound). 2,5

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References

  1. Williams JW, Simetl DL. Does this patient have ascites? How to divine fluid in the abdomen. JAMA 1992;267: 2645-48. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/397285
  2. Cattau EL, Benjamin SB, Knuff TE, et al The accuracy of the physical examination in the diagnosis of suspected ascites. JAMA 1982;247:1164-66. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7057606
  3. Cummings S, Papadakis M, Melnick J, et al. The predictive value of physical examinations for ascites. West J Med 1985;142:633-36. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3892916
  4. Fitzgerald FT. Physical diagnosis versus modern technology. A review. West J Med 1990;152:377-82. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2190412
  5. CDC. Assessment for ascites. https://www.cdc.gov/dengue/training/cme/ccm/Assess%20for%20Ascites_F.pdf. Accessed November 13, 2019.
My patient with jaundice complains of abdominal fullness. How useful is the history or physical exam when assessing for ascites?

Should my patient with cirrhosis and esophageal varices be considered for partial splenic embolization?

 

Although limited, the weight of the evidence suggests that patients with cirrhosis and esophageal varices may benefit from partial splenic embolization (PSE).

A 2006 small randomized-controlled trial comparing PSE and endoscopic ligation vs. endoscopic ligation alone in patients with cirrhosis, thrombocytopenia and esophageal varices reported reduced risk of recurrence of varices, progression to variceal bleeding and death over a mean follow-up of 4.8 years. 1

A 2016 meta-analysis of PSE in the management of gastroesophageal variceal hemorrhage arrived at a similar conclusion with respect to reducing the risk of recurrence of varices, variceal hemorrhage and mortality. 2 The studies included in this meta-analysis, however, were small with only 1 randomized-controlled trial (RCT) in the series.

A 2019 small retrospective of patients undergoing transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS) placement with or without PSE found a significant benefit in primary shunt patency (period between placement and first shunt dysfunction), but not secondary shunt patency (period between placement and permanent shunt dysfunction) or mortality over a 5-year follow-up.3

Adverse effects of PSE include post-embolization syndrome—a constellation of symptoms such as fever, pain, and nausea/vomiting— reported in 78%-100% of patients. More severe complications up to 15%-30% may also occur with PSE, particularly when around 70% or more of splenic volume is embolized. These complications include pleural effusion/ascites, spontaneous bacterial peritonitis, pulmonary embolism, liver failure, portal vein thrombosis and splenic abscesses which may develop between 10 days to 3 months following the procedure.  Up to 6% of patients undergoing PSE may die of the procedure-related complications. 4-6  

For these reasons, careful selection of patient for PSE and limiting the extent of splenic necrosis to 50% with close monitoring of clinical and ultrasound follow-up, particularly in patients with a volume of splenic necrosis >50%,  have been suggested.6

 

Fun fact: Did you know that splenic embolization was first performed by Frank E. Maddison of Madison, Wisconsin, in 1973 using autologous clot to treat recurrent gastrointestinal hemorrhage arising from esophageal varies?

 

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References

 

  1. Ohmoto K, Yoshioka N, Tomiyama Y, et al. Improved prognosis of cirrhosis patients with esophageal varices and thrombocytopenia treated by endoscopic variceal ligation plus partial splenic embolization. Digestive Diseases and Sciences 2006;51:352-58. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10620-006-3137-8
  2. Wang P, Liu R, Tong L, et al. Partial splenic embolization has beneficial effects for the management of gastroesophageal variceal hemorrhage. Saudi J Gastroenterol 2016;22:399-406. http://europepmc.org/articles/PMC5184739/
  3. Wan Y-M, Li Y-H, Xu Z-Y, et al. Comparison of TIPS alone and combined with partial splenic embolization (PSE) for the management of variceal bleeding. European Radiology 2019; https://doi.org/10.100/s00330-019-06046-6
  4. N’Kontchou G, Seror O, Bourcier V, et al. Partial splenic embolization in patients with cirrhosis: efficacy, tolerance, and long-term outcome in 32 patients. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol 2005;17:179-84. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15674095
  5. Hadduck TA, McWilliams JP. Partial splenic artery embolization in cirrhotic patients. World J Radiol 2014;28:6:160-168. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4037542/
  6. Smith M, Ray CE. Splenic artery embolization as an adjunctive procedure for portal hypertension. Semin Intervent Radiol 2012;29:135-39. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3444868/
  7. Maddison FE. Embolic therapy of hypersplenism. Invest Radiol 1973;8:280-281. https://journals.lww.com/investigativeradiology/Citation/1973/07000/Embolic_Therapy_of_Hypersplenism.54.aspx

 

Contributed in part by Theodore R. Pak, MD, PhD, Mass General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.

Should my patient with cirrhosis and esophageal varices be considered for partial splenic embolization?

Should I avoid intravenous furosemide for management of ascites in my patient with cirrhosis?

Generally, yes! IV furosemide for treatment of ascites in patients with cirrhosis should be avoided for couple of reasons.

First, in contrast to patients with congestive heart failure in whom the absorption of oral furosemide may be impaired due to bowel wall edema, patients with cirrhosis and ascites appear to absorb oral furosemide efficiently, similarly to that of control patients.1   Another reason for avoiding IV furosemide in this setting is the possibility of a significant drop in the GFR with its attendant rise in BUN and serum creatinine, clinically resembling a picture of hepatorenal syndrome.2

Although the mechanism of the adverse effect of IV furosemide on the renal function of patients with cirrhosis is not totally clear, furosemide-induced vasoconstriction, not intrasvascular volume depletion due to sodium wasting, seems to play an important role.3

Nevertheless, certain situations may necessitate the use of IV furosemide in patients with cirrhosis and ascites, such as in single doses to help identify patients who will be responsive to diuretics, and in patients in need of prompt diuresis such as those with concurrent pulmonary edema. In a somewhat reassuring study, a single dose of 80 mg IV furosemide reliably identified cirrhotic patients with ascites responsive to diuretics, without a significant risk of deteriorating renal function.3

 

References

  1. Sawhney VK, Gregory PB, Swezey SE, et al. Furosemide disposition in cirrhotic patients. Gastroenterology 1981; 81: 1012-16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7286579
  2. Daskalopoulos G, Laffi G, Morgan T, et al. Immediate effects of furosemide on renal hemodynamics in chronic liver disease with ascites. Gastroenterology 1987;92:1859-1863. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3569760
  3. Spahr, L., Villeneuve, J., Tran, H. K., & Pomier-Layrargues, G. Furosemide-induced natriuresis as a test to identify cirrhotic patients with refractory ascites. Hepatology 2001;33:28-31. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11124817

 

Contributed by Sam Miller, MD, Mass General Hospital, Boston, MA.

 

Should I avoid intravenous furosemide for management of ascites in my patient with cirrhosis?

My patient with cirrhosis has a large right sided pleural effusion with only a small amount of ascites. Could this effusion still be related to his cirrhosis?

Yes! Although we often associate pleural effusions in patients with cirrhosis with the presence of large ascites, some patients present with hepatic hydrothorax even in the absence of significant ascites.1-3  

In fact, in a study involving 77 patients with hepatic hydrothorax, 49% had minimal or small and 9% had no detectable ascites!1  Interestingly, nearly three-quarters of patients in this study had right sided pleural effusion with 10% having bilateral and 17% having left sided effusion only. Hepatic hydrothorax without ascites as the first sign of liver cirrhosis has also been reported.2

Although the mechanism(s) behind hepatic hydrothorax is not fully clear, the passage of peritoneal fluid into the pleural cavity through defects in the tendinous portion of the diaphragm assisted by negative intrathoracic pressure during inspiration is commonly favored. 1-3  

Supportive evidence includes a number of studies involving intraperitoneal injection of air, dyes or technetium 99 m-sulfur colloid that have demonstrated the trans-diaphragmatic flow of ascites into the pleural cavity. 1-4  In the absence of ascites, a complete equilibrium between the amount of ascites produced and its flow into and reabsorption by the pleural cavity is assumed.1,2

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that although most patients with hepatic hydrothorax have a transudative pleural effusion according to Light’s criteria, 1 study showed that 18% of patients may meet the Light’s criteria for an exudative effusion? 5,6

 

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References

  1. Badillo R, Rockey DC. Hepatic hydrothorax: Clinical features, management, and outcomes in 77 patients and review of the literature. Medicine 2014;93:135-142. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24797168
  2. Kim JS, Kim CW, Nam HS, et al. Hepatic hydrothorax without ascites as the first sign of liver cirrhosis. Respirology Case Reports 2016;4:16-18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4722098/
  3. Rubinstein D, McInnes IE, Dudley FJ. Hepatic hydrothorax in the absence of clinical ascites: diagnosis and management. Gastroenterology 1985;88:188-91. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3964765
  4. Holt KA, Oliviera E, Rohatgi PK. Hepatic hydrothorax demonstration by Tc-99 sulfur colloid ascites scan. Clin Nucl Med 1999;24:609. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10439187 
  5. Light RW. New treatment for hepatic hydrothorax? Ann Am Thorac Soc 2016;13:773-74. https://www.atsjournals.org/doi/full/10.1513/AnnalsATS.201603-223ED
  6. Bielsa S, Porcel JM, Castellote J, et al. Solving the Light’s criteria misclassification rate of cardiac and hepatic transudates. Respirology 2012;17”721-726. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22372660
My patient with cirrhosis has a large right sided pleural effusion with only a small amount of ascites. Could this effusion still be related to his cirrhosis?

Should I be concerned about the umbilical hernia in my patient with cirrhosis and ascites?

Although umbilical hernia in patients with cirrhosis and ascites is common and often “expected” (a rate of 20% during the course of their disease), it can be associated with significant risk of complications such as incarceration, ascites drainage, peritonitis, and spontaneous rupture or evisceration from necrosis of overlying skin.1,2

A 2007 retrospective study involving patients with cirrhosis and umbilical hernia reported a complication rate of 77% and related mortality of 15% among those managed conservatively (mean period of observation ~ 5 years); MELD score could not predict failure of conservative management (median 22 in complicated vs 24 in uncomplicated).3

Because the risk of death with hernia repair in urgent settings is 7x higher than for elective hernia repair in cirrhotic patients, there has been increasing interest in elective repair in patients with well-compensated cirrhosis.3 Interestingly, the reported surgical complication rates among patients with well-compensated cirrhosis appear similar to those in noncirrhotic patients.3 If the patient is expected to undergo liver transplantation in the near future, elective hernia repair can be postponed and managed concomitantly.

Bonus pearl: Did you know that spontaneous umbilical hernia rupture is also known as “Flood syndrome” (should be easy to remember!), first described by Frank B Flood, a surgical resident back in 1961? 4

References

  1. Marsman HA, Heisterkamp J, Halm JA, et al. Management in patients with liver cirrhosis and an umbilical hernia. Surgery 2007;142:372-5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17723889
  2. Coelho, JCU, Claus CMP, Campos ACL, et al. Umbilical hernia in patients with liver cirrhosis: a surgical challenge. World J Gastrointest Surg 2016;8:476-82. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4942747/
  3. Martens P, Laleman W. Umbilical hernia in a patient with cirrhosis. Cleveland Clin J Med 2015;82: 404-5. https://www.mdedge.com/ccjm/article/100682/hepatology/umbilical-hernia-patient-cirrhosis
  4. Nguyen ET, Tudtud-Hans LA. Flood syndrome: spontaneous umbilical hernia rupture leaking ascitic fluid-a case report. Perm J 2017;21:16-152. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5499604/ 

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Should I be concerned about the umbilical hernia in my patient with cirrhosis and ascites?