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Abbdominal Compartment Syndrome

Symptoms & Signs

Abdominal Compartment Syndrome is present when the major organs of the body, such as the lungs, heart, kidneys, stomach and brain begin to work incorrectly due to increased pressure in the abdomen (belly). Abdominal compartment syndrome is seen in patients who need large amounts of fluids in a short period of time. These are usually trauma patients, who are admitted to the hospital, losing large amounts of blood. If abdominal compartment syndrome is left untreated, multiple organs in the body will fail and death will occur. 


In abdominal compartment syndrome all the major organs are squeezed, which causes the body’s organs to work harder. The result on the heart is decreased blood return to the heart. When the heart doesn’t receive the blood it needs for the body to function correctly, the heart begins to fail. The result on the lungs is atelectasis (collapsed) lung. The lungs also have a risk for increased lung infection. The kidneys do not receive the blood needed to work correctly, which can lead to kidney failure. The stomach does not receive the blood it needs and the stomach and intestines actually start to die. The liver loses the ability to clear toxin (poisons) from the body. Also, the increased pressure in the abdomen can cause increased pressure in the brain.  

Abdominal compartment syndrome is suspected in any trauma patient with a distended abdomen (larger belly than normal), decreased or lack of urine, and the need for the breathing machine to be increased. If the above findings are seen, abdominal pressures are taken through the catheter in the bladder to diagnose abdominal compartment syndrome.


Treatment for abdominal compartment syndrome consists of a surgeon (doctor who operates) opening the belly by cutting down the middle of the abdomen. An abdominal dressing is placed over the belly and the belly remains open until the patient is stable enough for the belly to be closed. This operation relieves pressure and allows more room for the organs to function. When this operation occurs, the breathing machine requirements are decreased, and the heart does not have to work as hard. When the patient is stable enough the belly will be closed by the doctor.


Source Citation: “Abdominal Compartment Syndrome”. Gestring, M. 2004.