Incidence and clinical pattern of the abdominal compartment syndrome after "damage-control" laparotomy in 311 patients with severe abdominal and/or pelvic trauma

Crit Care Med. 2000 Jun;28(6):1747-53. doi: 10.1097/00003246-200006000-00008.


Objective: To investigate the incidence, main physiologic effects, and therapeutic management of the abdominal compartment syndrome (ACS) after severe abdominal and/or pelvic trauma.

Design: Retrospective analysis from January 1991 to December 1996; prospective study from January 1997 to August 1998.

Setting: Level I trauma center, intensive care unit.

Patients: A total of 311 patients with severe abdominal and/or pelvic trauma and "damage-control" laparotomy on day of admission.

Interventions: The ACS was defined as the development of significant respiratory compromise, including elevated inspiratory pressure of >35 mbar, a decreased Horowitz quotient (<150 torr [<20 kPa]), renal dysfunction (urine output, <30 mL/hr), hemodynamic instability necessitating catecholamines, and a rigid or tense abdomen. Beginning with January 1997, urinary bladder pressure as an additional variable for the diagnosis of ACS was continuously measured in patients (n = 12) at risk. Bladder pressures of >25 mm Hg indicated ACS.

Measurements and main results: Seventeen patients (5.5%) developed ACS because of persistent intra-abdominal/retroperitoneal bleeding (n = 12; 70.6%) or visceral edema (n = 5; 29.4%). All patients with ACS underwent primary fascial closure. In eight of these patients (47%), abdominal and/or pelvic packing for hemostasis was performed. All patients with ACS required decompressive emergency laparotomies because of physiologic derangements. The time between primary laparotomy and decompressive laparotomy was 12.9 +/- 2.0 hrs. Emergency decompression of the abdomen resulted in a significant increase in the cardiac index (+146%), tidal volume (+133%), Horowitz quotient (+156%), and urine output (+1557%), whereas bladder pressure (-63%), heart rate (-19%), central venous pressure (-30%), pulmonary artery occlusion pressure (-43%), peak airway pressure (-31%), partial pressure arterial carbon dioxide (-30%), and lactate (-40%) markedly (p < .05) decreased. In two multiply injured patients with additional head trauma, ACS caused a critical increase of the intracranial pressure, which markedly dropped after the release of abdominal tension.

Conclusions: Risk factors for the occurrence of ACS are severe abdominal and/or pelvic trauma, which require laparotomy and packing for the control of hemorrhage. The ACS occurs within hours and causes life-threatening physiologic derangements and a critical rise in intracranial pressure in patients with combined abdominal/pelvic and head trauma. Decompressive laparotomy immediately restores impaired organ functions. In patients at risk, the continuous measurement of urinary bladder pressure as a simple, noninvasive, and less expensive diagnostic tool for early detection of elevated intra-abdominal pressure is mandatory.

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen*
  • Abdominal Injuries / complications*
  • Abdominal Injuries / surgery*
  • Adult
  • Compartment Syndromes / epidemiology*
  • Critical Illness
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Laparotomy / adverse effects
  • Male
  • Pelvis / injuries*
  • Pelvis / surgery*
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology*
  • Retrospective Studies