Abdominal Abscess Clinical Presentation

Updated: Jul 06, 2022
  • Author: Alan A Saber, MD, MS, FACS, FASMBS; Chief Editor: John Geibel, MD, MSc, DSc, AGAF  more...
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History and Physical Examination

Intra-abdominal abscesses are highly variable in presentation. Persistent abdominal pain, focal tenderness, spiking fever, persistent tachycardia, prolonged ileus, leukocytosis, or intermittent polymicrobial bacteremia suggest an intra-abdominal abscess in patients with predisposing primary intra-abdominal disease or in individuals who have had abdominal surgery. If a deeply seated abscess is present, many of these classic features may be absent. The only initial clues may be persistent fever, mild liver dysfunction, persistent gastrointestinal (GI) dysfunction, or nonlocalizing debilitating illness.

The diagnosis of an intra-abdominal abscess in the postoperative period may be difficult, because postoperative analgesics and incisional pain frequently mask abdominal findings. In addition, antibiotic administration may mask abdominal tenderness, fever, and leukocytosis.

In patients with subphrenic abscesses, irritation of contiguous structures may produce shoulder pain, hiccup, or unexplained pulmonary manifestations, such as pleural effusion, basal atelectasis, or pneumonia. With pelvic abscesses, frequent urination, diarrhea, or tenesmus may occur. A diverticular abscess may present as an incarcerated inguinal hernia. [7]

Many patients have a significant septic response, suffer volume depletion, and develop a catabolic state. This syndrome may include high cardiac output, tachycardia, low urine output, and low peripheral oxygen extraction. Initially, respiratory alkalosis due to hyperventilation may occur. If left untreated, this progresses to metabolic acidosis. Sequential multiple organ failure is highly suggestive of intra-abdominal sepsis.