Management for Chylous Ascites
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Chylous Ascites - Management, Signs and Symptoms

Published on Mar 26, 2022 and last reviewed on Mar 17, 2023   -  4 min read


Chylous ascites is defined as the abnormal accumulation of the milky lymphatic fluid in the peritoneal (abdomen) cavity. Read the article below for more details.

What Is Chylous Ascites?

Chyle is a milky fluid containing fat that drains the small intestine into the lymphatic system during digestion. Ascites is an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen. Chylous ascites (CA) happen when fat-rich lymph accumulates in the peritoneal cavity due to the damage of the lymphatic system secondary to traumatic injury or obstruction. The ascitic fluid has a turbid or milky appearance due to the high triglyceride content. The triglyceride content is usually greater than 200 mg/dL.

What Is the Etiology of Chylous Ascites?

The etiology of chylous ascites have been classified as:

About two-thirds of all chylous ascites in developed countries are associated with abdominal malignancy and cirrhosis, whereas infectious diseases remain the primary etiology in developing countries. Chylous ascites can also be reclassified based on the portal and non-portal etiologies based on the presence or absence of disease conditions affecting the underlying portal system.

How To Classify Chylous Ascites?

How to classify Chylous Ascites?

The classification of chylous ascites is as follows:

  • True Chylous Ascites - Fluid with high glyceride content.

  • Chyliform Ascites - Fluid with protein related to fatty degeneration.

  • Pseudochylous Ascites - Fluid that is milky in appearance, which is not because of chyle but pus.

What Are the Clinical Signs And Symptoms?

  1. Painless and progressive abdominal distention.

  2. Weight gain.

  3. Shortness of breath due to increased abdominal pressure.

  4. Non-specific symptoms such as anorexia, malaise, diarrhea, edema, nausea, enlarged lymph nodes, early satiety, fever, and night sweats may be present.

  5. In patients with underlying cirrhosis, related symptoms like jaundice (yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes due to high bilirubin levels), palmar erythema (skin condition where the palms turn red), spider angiomas (swollen blood vessels found slightly beneath the skin surface with a central red spot and extensions which look like spider’s legs) of the chest and encephalopathy (a disease that affects the structure or function of the brain) may be seen.

How to Evaluate for Chylous Ascites?

Apart from the clinical signs and symptoms, detailed information on the history of malignancy, recent abdominal surgery, and underlying liver disease should be obtained to evaluate these patients.

  1. Abdominal paracentesis is the most important test in diagnosing chylous ascites. The fluid should be analyzed for cell count, gram stain, bacterial culture, glucose concentration, total protein, albumin, amylase, triglycerides, and lactate dehydrogenase. On examination of the ascitic fluid, there is a milky, cloudy, and turbid appearance. Elevated ascitic fluid triglycerides are another parameter for the diagnosis of CA. In infectious diseases like tuberculosis, the acid-fast bacilli smear, culture, and PCR (polymerase chain reaction) should also be performed. ADA (adenosine deaminase), released during immune response in case of infectious diseases, can be detected in the fluid, which can also be used as an indirect marker for tuberculosis.

  2. The gold standard for diagnosing chylous ascites is the identification of chylomicrons using the lipoprotein electrophoresis test. Chylomicrons are ultra low-density fat globules composed of protein and fat synthesized in the small intestine.

  3. Cytology and peritoneal biopsy are essential in diagnosing CA related to malignancy or tuberculosis.

  4. It is difficult to differentiate between chylous and clear ascites in CT (computed tomography) scans. Fat fluid level is a radiological sign for the diagnosis of CA. It is done after asking the patient to lie on his back for some time. Since the specific gravity of fat is less than the water, a fat fluid level is formed.

  5. Lymphangiography and lymphoscintigraphy are used to visualize the body’s lymphatic system for any abnormality or leakage. Lymphoscintigraphy can accurately identify the leakage sites, and hence they are more helpful in selecting patients for surgery. It is non-invasive but has technical challenges, whereas lymphangiography is invasive. It has complications like infection, pain, bleeding, etc. It can transiently worsen the condition due to the oily contrast medium used for the test.

What Is the Management for Chylous Ascites?

Management is mainly focused on symptomatic relief and treating the underlying cause. Treatment for chylous ascites includes dietary measures, pharmacological agents, and surgical interventions. Malignancies account for upto 85 % of the atraumatic cases, and they usually have a poor prognosis. If the underlying etiology is malignancy, chemotherapy or radiation therapy must be promptly advised.

  • Dietary measures include a high-protein and low-fat diet with medium-chain triglycerides (MCT). Coconut oil is a natural source of MCTs. Synthetic MCT oil is administered orally at a dose of 15 mL three times a day with meals. They can cause abdominal distension, nausea, and vomiting. Patients with CA associated with cirrhosis should be treated with a low-sodium diet and drugs such as Furosemide and Spironolactone; however, the use of MCTs in advanced cirrhosis can worsen the symptoms.
  • Patients who do not respond well to the above measures should have bowel rest and be given total parenteral nutrition (feeding necessary fluids into a vein). Octreotide (somatostatin analog which reduces portal pressure) and this in the management of chylous ascites has been beneficial.
  • Orlistat inhibits the conversion of dietary triglycerides into fatty acids, thereby reducing the availability of fatty acids for absorption.
  • Paracentesis (a procedure where a needle is inserted into the peritoneal cavity to obtain ascitic fluid) can provide temporary relief. But reaccumulation of fluid may require repeated paracentesis. Complications can worsen the prognosis.
  • In patients with CA related to surgery, supportive therapy can help resolve the condition. Early reoperation is indicated when the leakage site is prominent, and the patient has a good prognosis.
  • A chylous leak can be ligated with sutures and fibrin glue.
  • Transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunts (TIPS), which reroutes blood flow in the liver, have been used successfully to treat chylous ascites.
  • Laparotomy should not be used in children with chylous ascites unless they are unresponsive to other conservative management.


Chylous ascites are rare, and the treatment outcome depends on the underlying etiology. Treatment strategies also vary for each patient. Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening complication associated with it. The prognosis is poor when it is related to malignancy. Pediatric patients with postsurgical and post-traumatic chylous ascites have a favorable prognosis. Also, suggest a consultation with us to know more about the same.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Are the Treatment Measures for Chylous Ascites?

The following are the treatment measures for chylous ascites:
- The doctor will remove the fluid from your belly with the help of a needle.
- Diet should be altered to a low-fat diet to reduce fluid accumulation in the belly.
- In some cases, total nutrition can be given intravenously to reduce or prevent more fluid accumulation.
- A drain is usually placed in the belly to collect the fluid.
- Helping the body produce less chyle with the help of some medications and interventional radiology can help fix the lymph vessel.


Do People With Chylous Ascites Die?

Chylous ascites is unrelenting and can lead to the death of the person if not managed wisely.


How Many Types of Ascites Are There, and What Are They?

There are two types of ascites, uncomplicated ascites and refractory ascites.


How to Treat Chylothorax?

The initial and conservative method of treating chylothorax is providing the person affected with a specific or parenteral diet. About 20 to 80 percent of people show improvements after conservative treatment. However, if the initial treatment fails, then surgical intervention is done.


Is Ascites Curable?

Unfortunately no. Ascites cannot be cured entirely, but further complications can be controlled with appropriate treatments and specific lifestyle management.


What Are the Common Signs of Chylous Ascites?

Chylous ascites is characterized by the presence of milky gross fluid in the belly. Also, fluid triglyceride levels are known to be increased.


What Kind of Diet Should Be Followed for a Chylous Ascites Patient?

The goal is to help the body produce less chyle. Therefore, the person affected is made to eat and drink fewer fats as much as possible. In addition, a high-protein and low-fat diet are provided to reduce chyle production.


How to Diagnose a Chylous Leak?

The pleural or ascitic fluid must be assayed to confirm a chylous leak. High levels of triglycerides, more than 110 mg per dL, and the presence of chylomicrons confirm the diagnosis of a chylous leak.


Does Lymphoma Cause Ascites?

Serous effusion is common among lymphoma patients. However, ascites is a rare presentation of lymphoma.


What Is Congenital Chylous Ascites?

Congenital chylous ascites is rare and is characterized by the accumulation of chyle in the peritoneal cavity of infants below three months of age. This condition is a challenge to the physician.

Article Resources

Last reviewed at:
17 Mar 2023  -  4 min read




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