Abdominal Paracentesis

Fluid building in your abdomen isn't just scary, it can also be painful and making breathing difficult. Fortunately, a simple procedure called abdominal paracentesis can remove that fluid. This procedure should give you relief, but knowing more about it can help you know what to expect.

    Your Paracentesis Procedure at UVA Health

    Your paracentesis may be scheduled or may be done in an emergency. If it's scheduled, follow your doctor's instructions for pre-care regarding food and medications. But even in an emergency, this minimally invasive procedure can be done with a local anesthetic. 

    Typically, a catheter will be used to empty your bladder beforehand. Once the anesthetic is administered, your doctor will insert a needle or catheter into your abdomen. Depending on the suspected cause, they may use an ultrasound to find the best location. They may also want to collect some of the fluid for testing, especially if the cause is unknown. 

    In many cases, you'll begin to feel relief immediately, as the fluid is drained and you're able to breathe more easily. 

    What Causes Fluid Buildup (Ascites)?

    The fluid buildup in your abdomen can be caused by a variety of things. The most common causes are:

    • Abdominal injury
    • Infection
    • Diseases of organs, such as the liver
    • Cancer

    How Much Fluid Is Drawn?

    How much fluid is drawn will depend on a couple of things. For diagnostic procedures, typically only a small sample of fluid is needed. But for therapeutic reasons, the amount of fluid can be large and the process can take a while. 

    In some cases, a tube will be inserted so that you can continue to drain the fluid at home. 

    Are There Possible Complications?

    With imaging technology, the risk of complication is very small. But there’s always some risk. For paracentesis the most common complications are:

    • Bleeding
    • Infection
    • Accidental piercing of structures in the abdomen


    Paracentesis is usually an outpatient procedure. Afterwards, you should alert your doctor if you experience any of the following:

    • Signs of infection, including fever, chills and abdominal pain
    • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding or fluid from the paracentesis site
    • Pain that you cannot control with the medicines you have been given
    • Cough, shortness of breath, feeling faint or chest pain
    • Abdominal swelling

    In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.