Abdominal compartment syndrome happens when bleeding or swelling in your abdomen creates dangerously high pressure. This pressure can lead to multiple organ failure.

Abdominal compartment syndrome is a life threatening condition.

Abdominal compartment syndrome mainly affects very sick people, such as those in an intensive care unit (ICU).

Medical emergency

Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if you or a loved one are at risk of abdominal compartment syndrome and experience any of the following:

Here, we take a closer look at abdominal compartment syndrome, including its causes and risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and other helpful info.

Conditions that cause bleeding or swelling inside your abdomen can cause abdominal compartment syndrome. These include:

The main risk factor for abdominal compartment syndrome is being in an ICU. Researchers estimate that up to 35% of people in an ICU requiring a ventilator to breathe can get abdominal compartment syndrome.

Additional risk factors include:

  • heavy alcohol or illegal drug use
  • pregnancy
  • obesity

Abdominal compartment syndrome typically develops in very sick people. New symptoms to watch for include:

If you or a loved one are at risk of abdominal compartment syndrome, a medical team will monitor blood pressure, urine output, and other metrics.

If any of these readings are outside the typical range, your medical team will measure your intra-abdominal pressure. It’s the only test that can definitively diagnose this condition.

A doctor will diagnose abdominal compartment syndrome if intra-abdominal pressure is higher than 24 mm Hg and there’s evidence of organ failure.

To measure intra-abdominal pressure, a doctor will insert a catheter (a thin, flexible tube) in your urethra. From the urethra, they will advance the catheter into your bladder. The doctor will then inject special fluid through the catheter into your bladder and measure the pressure.

In addition, a doctor may order tests to confirm or rule out organ failure. These tests include:

Abdominal compartment syndrome must be treated as soon as possible. Delayed treatment may result in multiple organ failure, which can cause death.

Surgical decompression is the most common and effective approach to treating abdominal compartment syndrome. During this procedure, a surgeon makes an incision through your skin and abdominal wall to release the pressure from your abdomen.

Although the pressure typically goes down within a few hours after the surgery, it can take up to a week for it to reach typical levels.

Your surgeon may keep the incision partially open until this happens. Sometimes symptoms come back. This may require a second surgery.

People at risk of abdominal compartment syndrome are typically very sick. They’re usually already under medical supervision, with doctors and nurses watching for signs and symptoms of this condition.

Speak with a doctor if you’re unsure whether you or a loved one are at risk of abdominal compartment syndrome.

Medical emergency

Abdominal compartment syndrome is a life threatening medical condition. Chances of survival substantially decrease if the condition is not detected and treated early.

Be sure to get immediate medical attention if you or a loved have any symptoms of abdominal compartment syndrome.

Untreated abdominal compartment syndrome is fatal. A delay in treatment has a high risk of death.

Certain risk factors associated with a higher chance of death from abdominal compartment syndrome include:

Appropriate and timely treatment can save your life, and recovery from organ failure can take weeks or even months. Many people with abdominal compartment syndrome need ventilation, dialysis, and extended hospital stays.

Let’s go over a few questions people with abdominal compartment syndrome and their caregivers ask doctors.

What are the signs of abdominal compartment syndrome?

Signs and symptoms of abdominal compartment syndrome include:

  • painful swelling and tightness of the abdomen
  • difficulty breathing
  • low blood pressure
  • low urine output

How do you get abdominal compartment syndrome?

Abdominal compartment syndrome can happen in critically ill people. Usually, it’s a result of another abdominal condition, such as infection, injury, or inflammation.

What organs are commonly affected in abdominal compartment syndrome?

Organs most commonly affected by abdominal compartment syndrome include the:

  • heart
  • lungs
  • kidneys

Abdominal compartment syndrome is a life threatening medical condition. It usually affects critically ill people, especially those in an ICU.

It’s fatal if left untreated, but even with timely treatment, it can have lasting effects on your health.

The only way to accurately diagnose abdominal compartment syndrome is by measuring intra-abdominal pressure.

Talk with a doctor if you’re unsure whether you’re at risk of abdominal compartment syndrome.