Ascites as the initial presentation of gastrointestinal carcinoma

Mai Shimada, Catherine Berjohn, David A. Tanen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: The rapid development of ascites in a patient without known liver disease is an uncommon occurrence in the Emergency Department. Initial stabilization may include therapeutic peritoneal lavage to reduce diaphragmatic pressure and halt the progression of respiratory compromise. In the absence of liver disease, the differential diagnosis should include a search for malignancy, which has been reported to account for up to 10% of all cases of newly diagnosed ascites. Objectives: To discuss the differential diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment options associated with the development of acute malignant ascites. Case Report: We report the case of an 86-year-old woman who presented with the chief complaint of an enlarging abdomen and worsening shortness of breath of 1 week's duration. Bedside ultrasound rapidly revealed a large amount of intraperitoneal free fluid as a cause for her abdominal distension and respiratory compromise. Laboratory analysis of her blood along with computed tomography scan of her abdomen and pelvis were unremarkable. Diagnostic and therapeutic peritoneal lavage was done and the patient's symptoms improved. Pathologic examination of the peritoneal fluid revealed metastatic gastrointestinal carcinoma. Conclusion: Rapidly progressing ascites may be the sole presenting symptom of metastatic gastrointestinal carcinoma.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e195-e198
JournalJournal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • abdominal pain
  • ascites
  • gastrointestinal carcinoma
  • malignancy
  • weight loss


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