Ascitic Fluid Tapping

An ascitic tap is a medical procedure where a needle is used to drain fluid that is trapped in an internal body cavity, most commonly the abdomen (belly). Fluid may have to be drained from the abdomen for different reasons, such as if the fluid is stretching the abdomen and causing pain; if the fluid is infected; or if a doctor needs to analyse the fluid in a laboratory for the presence of any disease.

Other names for an ascitic tap are ‘abdominocentesis’, ‘paracentesis of the abdomen’ or ‘ascitic drain’.

Before you have an abdominal tap, your doctor will take your medical history and give you a physical exam. They may also order other laboratory tests. The abdominal tap can be done in the doctor’s office, a treatment room, or in the hospital.

Ascites tapping is usually undertaken to take off small volumes of ascites for analysis. This is in comparison to paracentesis where a drain is inserted so larger volumes can be removed.

Usually, you will feel as you did before the ascitic tap, with no after effects. If there has been a lot of fluid in your abdomen and this has been removed, you may feel much more comfortable than before. If you have had a lot of fluid drained, it can lower your blood pressure and make you feel dizzy or lightheaded. Occasionally, the doctor may give replacement fluids into your veins to reduce this side-effect.

An abdominal tap procedure takes about 15 to 20 minutes, or it may take more time if paracentesis of large volumes are required. An abdominal tap involves the following steps:

  1. The procedure area is cleaned and shaved.
  2. Your doctor then applies a local anesthetic. This numbs the area to prevent any pain or discomfort. For larger fluid removal, your doctor may need to make a small cut in the skin to accommodate the needle.
  3. Once the area is ready, your doctor inserts the need tap into the skin. The needle itself only goes 1 to 2 inches deep. Here, the fluid is extracted with the syringe.
  4. Then, your doctor will remove the needle. Your doctor may or may not use ultrasound during the abdominal tap. The amount of fluid removed depends largely on the original purpose of the procedure. Your doctor may perform a small diagnostic tap, or they may perform a large-volume tap. During a large-volume tap, your doctor will remove several liters of fluid to decrease the pressure and pain. If this is the case, a tube may be attached between the needle and syringe to help your doctor get more fluids.