Ascites and belly fat are two distinct conditions that can cause enlargement of your belly, or abdomen. Ascites commonly indicates the presence of significant liver disease, but may also result from a number of other serious medical conditions. Excessive belly fat can increase your risks for disorders such as diabetes, high blood pressure and certain forms of cancer.
Ascites is a term used to describe the buildup of excess fluid in your peritoneal cavity, which lines your abdomen and abdominal organs, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine's Medline Plus. If you have a severe liver condition such as hepatitis or cirrhosis, ascites develops from the combination of low levels of a liver protein called albumin and abnormally high pressure in the blood vessels that supply your liver. Medline Plus lists additional potential causes of ascites that include congestive heart failure, pancreas inflammation, inflammation of the heart sac, kidney dialysis complications and cancers of the pancreas, colon or ovaries.
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Belly fat, also called abdominal fat, comes in two varieties, according to Harvard Medical School. Subcutaneous fat, which you can feel when you grab your belly, lies between your skin and your abdominal wall. Visceral fat directly surrounds your abdominal organs. A third type of fat, called retroperitoneal fat, sits behind your abdominal cavity and is typically classified as a subtype of visceral fat. Both age and genetic factors can contribute to the increased presence of belly fat, according to Michael Jensen, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic. However, for men in particular, lifestyle choice and physical inactivity are more significant factors.
A minor case of ascites will not increase the size of your belly, the Merck Manuals Online Medical Library reports. However, as more fluid builds up, you may experience both belly enlargement and weight gain. If have an extreme case of ascites, you may experience a general feeling of increased abdominal pressure. In some rare cases, this pressure increase may trigger acute abdominal pain. If ascites forces your diaphragm upward, you may also experience shortness of breath, or dyspnea, the Merck Manuals note.
Belly Fat Effects
Belly fat is not an inert substance, Harvard Medical School reports. Rather, it is biologically active, and produces hormones that can disrupt your body's hunger signals and alter your natural responses to glucose-processing insulin. Visceral belly fat also produces substances called cytokines, which can trigger chronic low-level inflammation and resistance to the normal effects of insulin. Visceral fat also releases a substance called free fatty acid, which can lower your levels of beneficial cholesterol, increase your levels of harmful cholesterol and contribute to insulin resistance, Harvard Medical School notes.
If he can, your doctor will treat the underlying causes of ascites, Medline Plus explains. You may also lower the effects of ascites by avoiding alcohol, limiting your salt intake or using medications such as antibiotics and diuretics. You can reduce both visceral and subcutaneous belly fat through improved diet and regular exercise, according to the Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School.