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4-minute read

What is paracentesis?

Paracentesis is a procedure to drain fluid from your peritoneal cavity (the space in your abdomen that contains your bowels and other abdominal organs). The fluid is removed using a needle or catheter (tube).

What are the benefits of paracentesis?

Paracentesis is usually performed to treat ascites, a condition where too much fluid collects in the peritoneal cavity.

Removing the fluid should ease your symptoms. The fluid will be tested to help find out the cause of the problem.

Are there any alternatives to paracentesis?

Your doctor can usually use an ultrasound scan or CT scan to be certain that extra fluid is collecting but they cannot use these scans to treat your symptoms by removing the fluid.

For certain causes of ascites, you may be able to relieve your symptoms by eating less salt and by taking medication to make you pass more urine.

Paracentesis is the only way to remove the fluid so it can be tested.

What does the procedure involve?

Inserting a needle in your peritoneal cavity usually takes less than 15 minutes. Your doctor may offer you a sedative or painkiller which they can give you through a small needle in your arm or the back of your hand.

Your doctor will insert the needle into your skin, through your abdominal wall and into the peritoneal cavity.

If you are having paracentesis to help find out why you have ascites, your doctor may remove only a sample of fluid.

Illustration showing paracentesis.

If they need to remove a lot of fluid to relieve your symptoms, they will make a small cut on your skin so they can insert a catheter to remove the fluid.

If only a sample of fluid was removed, your doctor will remove the needle and cover any cut with a small plaster. Otherwise, your doctor will fix the catheter in place with a stitch and connect it to a drainage bag.

What complications can happen?

Some complications can be serious and can even cause death.

  • bleeding
  • damage to a nearby organ
  • inflammation of the lining of your abdomen (peritonitis)
  • low blood pressure, if a large amount of fluid needs to be removed
  • leaking of fluid where the needle or catheter was inserted
  • allergic reaction to the equipment, materials or medication
  • infection of the puncture site (wound)

How soon will I recover?

If the fluid needs to be tested, results will not be available for a few days. You will usually need to stay in hospital until the results are available or, if you had a large amount of fluid removed, until the catheter has been taken out. If you have had previous procedures to remove fluid, you may be able to go home the same day.

If you develop a fever, have difficulty breathing, chills, dizziness, tenderness or severe pain in your chest, shoulder or stomach, let your doctor know.

The healthcare team will discuss with you any treatment or follow-up you need.


Paracentesis is usually a safe and effective way of finding out why extra fluid is collecting in your abdomen and treating your symptoms.


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Last reviewed: September 2023

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