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Ascites vs. Anasarca — What's the Difference?

By Maham Liaqat & Urooj Arif — Updated on March 24, 2024
Ascites involves fluid accumulation in the abdominal cavity, while anasarca refers to widespread swelling of the body due to fluid retention.
Ascites vs. Anasarca — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Ascites and Anasarca


Key Differences

Ascites is characterized by the accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal cavity, often resulting from liver disease, heart failure, or cancer. This condition primarily affects the abdomen, leading to discomfort and bloating. On the other hand, anasarca is a severe, generalized edema that causes widespread swelling of the skin due to fluid imbalance across the body. It can result from various conditions, including renal failure, heart failure, and severe malnutrition or protein deficiency.
While ascites is often identified through symptoms like abdominal swelling and discomfort, weight gain, and a sense of fullness, anasarca presents with generalized swelling, pitting edema, and sometimes fluid accumulation in body cavities. Whereas, diagnosis of ascites may involve imaging tests such as ultrasound or CT scans, alongside physical examinations and lab tests to identify underlying causes. Anasarca's diagnosis might also include similar imaging tests but focuses on identifying the systemic condition causing widespread edema.
Treatment for ascites may include diuretics to remove excess fluid, paracentesis to drain abdominal fluid, and addressing the underlying cause, such as liver cirrhosis or heart failure. In contrast, treatment for anasarca targets the underlying systemic condition, which may involve managing heart, kidney, or liver disorders, alongside diuretics to help remove excess fluid from the body.
The management of ascites often focuses on dietary restrictions, such as reduced sodium intake, to prevent further fluid accumulation. Meanwhile, anasarca management might require more aggressive treatment strategies to control the widespread fluid imbalance, including nutritional support to correct protein deficiencies.
Ascites and anasarca, while both involving fluid accumulation, differ significantly in their location, underlying causes, symptoms, diagnostic approaches, and treatment strategies, highlighting the importance of accurate diagnosis and targeted treatment.

Comparison Chart


Accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity.
Generalized swelling of the body due to severe fluid retention.

Primary Causes

Liver disease, heart failure, cancer.
Renal failure, heart failure, severe malnutrition.


Abdominal swelling, discomfort, bloating.
Widespread swelling, pitting edema.

Diagnostic Methods

Ultrasound, CT scan, lab tests.
Imaging tests, lab tests to identify systemic conditions.


Diuretics, paracentesis, managing underlying conditions.
Managing underlying conditions, diuretics.

Compare with Definitions


Treated with Diuretics and Dietary Changes.
Reducing sodium intake is crucial for managing ascites.


Diagnosis Focuses on Underlying Causes.
Identifying and treating the systemic condition is key to managing anasarca.


Fluid Accumulation in the Abdominal Cavity.
Ascites can lead to significant abdominal swelling and discomfort.


Often Results from Systemic Conditions.
Kidney failure can lead to anasarca.


Often Related to Liver Disease.
Liver cirrhosis is a common cause of ascites.


Treatment Includes Diuretics.
Diuretics are used to help remove excess fluid in anasarca.


Can be Diagnosed with Imaging.
Ultrasounds are frequently used to confirm the presence of ascites.


Requires Comprehensive Management.
Anasarca treatment may involve addressing nutritional deficiencies.


May Require Direct Fluid Removal.
Paracentesis can be performed to remove fluid from the abdomen in severe cases of ascites.


Severe, Generalized Swelling.
Anasarca can cause extensive swelling throughout the body.


Ascites is the abnormal build-up of fluid in the abdomen. Technically, it is more than 25 ml of fluid in the peritoneal cavity, although volumes greater than one liter may occur.


Anasarca is a severe and generalized form of edema, with subcutaneous tissue swelling throughout the body. Unlike edema, which almost everyone will experience at some time and can be relatively benign, Anasarca is a pathological process reflecting a severe disease state and can involve the cavities of the body in addition to the tissues.


An abnormal accumulation of serous fluid in the abdominal cavity.


A general accumulation of serous fluid in various tissues and body cavities.


(medicine) An accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal cavity, frequently symptomatic of liver disease.


(medicine) Severe generalised oedema.


A collection of serous fluid in the cavity of the abdomen; dropsy of the peritoneum.


Dropsy of the subcutaneous cellular tissue; an effusion of serum into the cellular substance, occasioning a soft, pale, inelastic swelling of the skin.


Accumulation of serous fluid in peritoneal cavity


Generalized edema with accumulation of serum in subcutaneous connective tissue

Common Curiosities

What causes ascites?

Ascites is primarily caused by liver disease, heart failure, or cancer.

What treatment is available for anasarca?

Anasarca treatment focuses on the underlying systemic condition and may include diuretics.

How is ascites diagnosed?

Ascites diagnosis may involve ultrasound, CT scans, and lab tests.

What lifestyle changes can help manage ascites?

Dietary sodium restriction is recommended to manage ascites.

Can ascites lead to other health issues?

Yes, ascites can lead to complications like bacterial peritonitis.

What are the risks of paracentesis?

Risks include infection, bleeding, and bowel perforation, though it's generally safe.

Can ascites be prevented?

Managing the underlying causes of ascites, like liver disease, can help prevent it.

What are the symptoms of anasarca?

Anasarca symptoms include generalized swelling and pitting edema.

How does liver disease lead to ascites?

Liver disease can cause portal hypertension, leading to ascites.

Why is protein important in managing anasarca?

Adequate protein intake helps maintain plasma oncotic pressure, reducing edema.

Is anasarca reversible?

With appropriate treatment of the underlying cause, anasarca can often be reversed.

How are imaging tests used in diagnosing these conditions?

Imaging tests help visualize fluid accumulation and assess the severity.

Can ascites and anasarca occur together?

Yes, in conditions like heart failure, both can occur concurrently.

Is edema the same as anasarca?

Edema refers to swelling caused by fluid retention; anasarca is severe, generalized edema.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Maham Liaqat
Co-written by
Urooj Arif
Urooj is a skilled content writer at Ask Difference, known for her exceptional ability to simplify complex topics into engaging and informative content. With a passion for research and a flair for clear, concise writing, she consistently delivers articles that resonate with our diverse audience.

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