Abdominal compartment syndrome

Abdominal compartment syndrome (ACS; Richards and Krons, 1984) is organ dysfunction caused by increased intra-abdominal pressure more than 12 mmHg (intra-abdominal hypertension/IAH); organ dysfunction is usually respiratory, cardiovascular and renal but can be any organ; normal intra-abdominal pressure is being considered as 2-7 mmHg.

Abdominal perfusion pressure (APP) is the pressure which maintains adequate abdominal blood flow. It is measured by subtracting the intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) from mean arterial pressure (MAP). APP in ACS is usually less than 60 mmHg but should be maintained as more than 60 mmHg.


The effects of abdominal compartment syndrome are:

  • Cardiovascular system: It is often sudden, rapidly progressive, decreasing the venous return (due to IVC compression) to heart and increased peripheral resistance, with decreased right atrial pressure and decreased cardiac output.
  • Respiratory system: Intrapleural pressure is increased proportionately to the abdominal pressure. Upward displacement of the diaphragm, increased peak inspiratory pressure, hypoxia, hypercapnia, acidosis, respiratory failure, ARDS are other problems. It also causes restrictive lung disease.
  • Renal system: Decreased renal blood flow and glomerular filtration cause oliguria, renal failure.
  • Gastrointestinal system: Mesenteric venous hypertension; bowel wall oedema and ischaemia. Central nervous system: Cerebral oedema and hypoxia, unconsciousness.

Causes of abdominal compartment syndrome

The causes of abdominal compartment syndrome are:

  • Major abdominal trauma, postoperative haemorrhages, after damage control surgery with abdominal packings, are the common causes; ruptured aortic aneurysm.
  • Closure of the abdomen under tension; forcible reduction of the massive hernia.
  • Bowel wall oedema, mesenteric congestion, acute ascites; profound hypothermia and coagulopathy.
  • Acute gastric dilatation, paralytic ileus, gastroparesis, colonic pseudo-obstruction.
  • Retroperitoneal haemorrhages, pancreatitis.
  • Laparoscopic procedures.
  • Morbid obesity, pregnancy, major burns, continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis are precipitating causes.

Features and Diagnosis

  • Tensely distended abdomen, progressive oliguria, airway obstruction, occult blood loss.
  • Measurement of urinary bladder pressure: Transducer and manometer methods are available. The bladder acts as a passive reservoir at volume less than 100 ml (now 25 ml saline is used to measure) and it can transmit IAP without imparting any additional pressure from its bladder musculature. Measurement of bladder pressure reflects the IAP pressure. IAP is measured using a urinary catheter in the urinary bladder. Pressure is graded (Burch) as: I—10-15 cm of H2O (will not require decompression); II— 16-25 cm of H2O (needs close monitoring); III—26-35 cm H2O (most need decompression); IV—more than 36 cm H2O (all need decompression otherwise will die of cardiac arrest in few hours). Beyond grade, Ill immediate decompression is needed. Initial volume preload is essential otherwise sudden decompression may cause cardiac arrest in asystole due to reduced preload, the sudden influx of high potassium, acid and other metabolic by-products into the heart. Grade III and IV become a surgical emergency.
  • Chest X-ray, ECG monitoring, ICU care, electrolytes, haematocrit and serum creatinine estimation, USG abdomen should be done.
  • Mortality for ACS is 40%.
Intra-abdominal pressure


Burch grading in cm of waterWorld Society Of the ACS in mm of Hg (Muckart et al., and Malbrain et al.)
I10-15 cm of H2O12-15 mmHg
II15-25 cm of H2O16-20
III25-35 cm of H2O21-25


Abdominal compartment syndrome (ACS)

Multiple trauma and ICU patients— common Postoperative ileus Acute abdomen Acute gastric dilatation Laparoscopic procedures Intestinal obstruction

Major burns




Decreased urine

output – anuric renal

failure in severe


Tense abdomen—


Decreased venous return


hypoxaemia in

severe cases

Bowel ischaemia

Cardiac arrest


Bladder pressure


Ryle’s tube




ICU care




  • Abdominal decompression is the only ideal treatment for ACS; technique and timings are decided based on the clinical situation.
  • Temperature and coagulation profile should be made as possible as normal prior to decompression.
  • Silastic sheet created chimneys sutured to fascia around is often used. Pressure-free abdominal closure should be the target. Bogota bag, first described by Londoni, chief resident in Bogota, Columbia is cost-effective; here irrigation bags are sutured to each other as necessary to get a proper size and is sutured to fascia around using 1 zero nylon suture. Several litres of serosanguineous or ascitic fluid is let out through a plastic stoma bag attached to a closed drainage system. Once a patient is haemodynamically stable, definitive closure is performed after 48 hours. Abdominal fascia is closed using nonabsorbable sutures; subcutaneous tissue and skin are closed at a later period. Fluid and electrolyte management, antibiotics, adequate blood or blood product transfusions should be used as needed.
  • Other methods of closure: Towel clips, temporary mesh placement; PTFE mesh repair; vacuum-assisted closure are all temporary closure methods. Definitive closure methods

Primary closure of fascia; closure using synthetic mesh if no sepsis in the wound; biological mesh closure; component separation technique; closure using skin graft or flaps.


Abdominal compartment syndrome occurs when the abdomen becomes subject to increase the pressure.  The mortality rate blend with abdominal compartment syndrome is significant, ranging between 60% and 70%. The poor outcome relates not only to abdominal compartment syndrome itself but also to concordant injury and hemorrhagic shock.

De Waele, J. J.; De laet, I.; Malbrain, M. L. N. G. (12 October 2015). "Understanding abdominal compartment syndrome". Intensive Care Medicine. 42 (6): 1068–1070. Fitzgerald, James EF; Gupta, Shradha; Masterson, Sarah; Sigurdsson, Helgi H (2013). "Laparostomy management using the ABThera™ open abdomen negative pressure therapy system in a grade IV open abdomen secondary to acute pancreatitis". International Wound Journal. 10 (2): 138–44.


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