Abdominal Tap

Abdominal Tap

What is an abdominal tap?

An abdominal tap is also known as paracentesis. It is a two-way phenomenon – diagnostic and procedural.
As a diagnostic concept, an abdominal tap is done to determine the cause of excess fluid build-up in the abdomen. As a procedure, it is used to get rid of excess fluid from the abdominal region or cavity. This excess fluid is called ascites.
Ascites is an abnormal condition. The abdominal region (cavity) is the area between the spine and the abdominal wall. The presence of ascites in the abdomen will cause breathing difficulties, pains, and bloating.  Liver cirrhosis, otherwise called fibrotic liver scarring seems to be its most common cause. The following conditions can also cause it;

  1. Cancer
  2. Pancreatitis
  3. An infection
  4. Kidney disease
  5. Bowel damage
  6. Congestive heart failure
  7. Tuberculosis

Abdominal tap procedure

Prior to the time scheduled by the doctor for the test, you will have been instructed on certain things. One key thing you will be told will be instructed to fast for some 12 hours or so before the time for the test. And just before the test, you will be required to empty your bladder.
The abdominal tap procedure can be done in the doctor’s office or in a treatment room. It lasts for about 15 – 20 minutes. It does need you to be put in an unconscious state as though it is a surgery.
The following steps are involved in the procedure;

  1. Cleaning and shaving of the procedure’s area.
  2. A local anesthetic is then applied to the shaved area. A local anesthetic numbs pain locally.
  3. If the fluid to be removed is large, a small cut will be made on the shaved area where the needle can be inserted.
  4. Insertion of the needle, about 1-2 inches deep, into the skin.
  5. Extraction of the fluid by pulling the syringe attached to the needle. The amount of fluid removed depends on why the procedure was undertaken and whether the needle will be attached to a tube.
  6. Once the doctor is done, the opening on your skin where the needle was inserted will be dressed and stitched further investigation can be done on the fluid.

Abdominal tap

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Factors that constitute a risk for an abdominal tap

Aside from the common risks of mild breathing difficulty and leakage of fluid from the puncture site, other risks abound. They are; acute kidney injury, infection, low blood pressure, the accidental bursting of a blood vessel, the intestines, or the bladder, etc.
It is very possible for certain risk factors like cirrhosis to increase the chances of a complication occurring. Smokers or drunks are even at a higher risk of developing an infection. So will poor nutrition, too.
Please reach out to your doctors should you notice any of the following; increased pain, fever, chills, increased abdominal swelling, redness, and or swelling at the site of needle puncture, hemorrhage, fluid leakage, cough, dyspnea, pains in the chest, fainting.

What to know about the results of an abdominal tap

Cirrhosis, which is an irreversible liver disease, commonly causes a buildup of fluid in the abdomen. There is a need for a diagnostic abdominal tap. Its treatment is based on stopping further damage to the liver.
The following conditions can cause fluid retention;

  1. Ascites: This shows that the liver can fail in its function soon.
  2. Lymphatic fluid leakage
  3. Abdominal injury
  4. Pancreatic disease
  5. Heart disease
  6. Internal bleeding
  7. Infection
  8. Liver disease
  9. Intestinal damage
  10. Kidney disease
  11. Tumor
  12. Low blood proteins

There may be a need for comprehensive medical care, depending on the underlying cause of the ascites, or results of the abdominal tap. Your physician may request that you watch your body weight to arrest the buildup of fluid. Blood tests, CT scans, and ultrasound may need to be performed for proper diagnosis and treatment.


Recovery after the procedure doesn’t cost much. Daily activities can begin once the wound gets healed. Patients are advised to consult with their physician once the wound gets healed or before they partake in any exercise or other physical activities. This is of utmost importance if the wound was stitched.
Prognosis depends on the underlying cause of the disorder. If the accumulation of fluid in the abdomen continues, then there may be a need for many abdominal taps. Studies by the American College of Gastroenterology says that patients with ascites have at most a 40% chance of surviving the disorder for five years after which a liver transplant would be necessary.

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