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Abdominal Compartment Syndrome Treatment & Management

  • Author: Richard Paula, MD; Chief Editor: Trevor John Mills, MD, MPH  more...
Updated: Sep 15, 2015

Approach Considerations

If abdominal compartment syndrome is suspected, the focus of prehospital care is to immediately transport the patient to the emergency department. Remove any constricting garments. Do not place anything on the patient's abdomen (eg, external defibrillators, bundles of blankets, oxygen tanks).

Avoid overly aggressive fluid resuscitation, especially in extremity injuries. The over-resuscitated patient is much more likely to develop abdominal compartment syndrome, and often the prehospital setting is where this begins.[15]

In the emergency department, the first priority of the ED physician is to consider the diagnosis in any patient with the appropriate mechanisms of injury or pathology. Abdominal compartment syndrome will be missed unless it is in the differential diagnosis.

Therapy should include fluid resuscitation and transfusion if needed, as well as surgical consultation. A comprehensive, evidence-based approach to the management of abdominal compartment syndrome that includes early use of an open abdomen has been shown to reduce mortality.[16] A group in Taiwan has used laparoscopic decompression successfully in blunt abdominal trauma patients who have an IAP of 25-35 cm H2 O.[17]

The World Society of the Abdominal Compartment Syndrome recently updated its clinical practice guidelines, noting that correct fluid therapy and perfusional support during resuscitation form the cornerstone of medical management in patients with abdominal hypertension.[18, 19]

Pharmacologic therapy is less effective than mechanical drainage. Pressors have a role but may not be equally effective in treating abdominal compartment syndrome. Dobutamine was shown to be superior to dopamine in restoring intestinal mucosal perfusion in a porcine model.[20]

Inpatient care in acute abdominal compartment syndrome is directed by critical care physicians and surgeons. If an ICU patient experiences decompensation, abdominal compartment syndrome should be reexamined as a potential cause.

IAH may be an ongoing process in any patient with pathology producing intra-abdominal fluid loss. Repeat or continuous IAP measurement is indicated. The abdomen should be clear of any heavy objects.



Consultations may be indicated with the following:

  • General surgeon
  • Orthopedic surgeon
  • Obstetrician and gynecologist (OB/GYN)
  • Vascular surgeon


Multiple reports document the efficacy of paracentesis in burn patients who develop abdominal compartment syndrome. Although not prospectively validated, it appears to be a superior alternative to decompressive laparotomy in this patient population. It may be performed quickly at bedside and avoids potential complications associated with larger incisions. Paracentesis is also extremely useful in patients with chronic abdominal compartment syndrome from large-volume ascites.


Reperfusion Syndrome

Secondary effects of abdominal compartment syndrome occur immediately after evacuation. Many cases of hypotension and even asystole have been observed. Theories to explain these effects include washout of products of anaerobic metabolism (eg, lactic acid), which may be directly tissue toxic, and suddenly decreased systemic vascular resistance (SVR). Volume resuscitation immediately before decompression has been shown to significantly decrease these events.

Adding mannitol and sodium carbonate (NaCO3) to the IV fluid bolus may decrease the toxicity of reperfusion syndromes.

Further Outpatient Care

Outpatient care is directed at the primary etiology of abdominal compartment syndrome. Chronic abdominal compartment syndrome requires lifelong medications and lifestyle changes, which may include the following.

  • Diuretics
  • Fluid restriction
  • Weight loss
  • Avoidance of alcohol


Consider transfer of any patient who requires services not available at the current facility. Patients with abdominal compartment syndrome frequently require admission to the ICU. Any patient with documented abdominal compartment syndrome requires an emergent surgical consultation. Surgical services of multiple disciplines may be consulted. If a surgeon is not immediately available, the patient must be transferred.

Transfer is indicated for any patient meeting local trauma center guidelines.


Preventing abdominal compartment syndrome is much more effective than treating it. The literature is replete with recommendations directed primarily at postsurgical care regarding prevention of abdominal compartment syndrome.

Primary fascial closure has been prospectively demonstrated to significantly increase the incidence of abdominal compartment syndrome after laparotomy, specifically in patients who have undergone damage-control surgery. Various types of surgical mesh are helpful to decrease the incidence of abdominal compartment syndrome.

Prevention is also focused on earlier treatment of IAH. Many authors now recommend managing IAH before full abdominal compartment syndrome develops. This can only be accomplished by proactive IAP measurement and monitoring.

Controlled, randomized studies have highlighted the possibility of preventing abdominal compartment syndrome by avoiding pure crystalloid resuscitation in trauma and burn patients. O'Mara et al demonstrated a significantly lower IAP in burn patients resuscitated with a colloid combination of fresh frozen plasma and lactated Ringer solution versus lactated Ringer solution alone, given by the Parkland formula.[21]

At a large Japanese burn center, Oda et al demonstrated hypertonic lactated saline could be used in smaller volumes to maintain adequate urine output and significantly reduce the rate of abdominal compartment syndrome and associated morbidity.[22]

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Richard Paula, MD Chief Medical Informatics Officer, Shriners Hospitals for Children; Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, University of South Florida College of Medicine

Richard Paula, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Eddy S Lang, MDCM, CCFP(EM), CSPQ Associate Professor, Senior Researcher, Division of Emergency Medicine, Department of Family Medicine, University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine; Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine, McGill University Faculty of Medicine, Canada

Eddy S Lang, MDCM, CCFP(EM), CSPQ is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Trevor John Mills, MD, MPH Chief of Emergency Medicine, Veterans Affairs Northern California Health Care System; Professor of Emergency Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of California, Davis, School of Medicine

Trevor John Mills, MD, MPH is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Emergency Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

James Li, MD Former Assistant Professor, Division of Emergency Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Board of Directors, Remote Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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