What is normal intra-abdominal pressure and how is it affected by positioning, body mass and positive end-expiratory pressure?

Intensive Care Med. 2009 Jun;35(6):969-76. doi: 10.1007/s00134-009-1445-0. Epub 2009 Feb 26.


Purpose: To describe what is defined as normal intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) and how body positioning, body mass index (BMI) and positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) affect IAP monitoring.

Methods: A review of different databases was made (Pubmed, MEDLINE (January 1966-June 2007) and EMBASE.com (January 1966-June 2007)) using the search terms of "IAP", "intra-abdominal hypertension" (IAH), "abdominal compartment syndrome" (ACS), "body positioning", "prone positioning", "PEEP" and "acute respiratory distress syndrome" (ARDS). Prior to 1966, we selected older articles by looking at the reference lists displayed in the more recent papers.

Results: This review focuses on the concept that the abdomen truly behaves as a hydraulic system. The definitions of a normal IAP in the general patient population and morbidly obese patients are reviewed. Subsequently, factors that affect the accuracy of IAP monitoring, i.e., body position (head of bed elevation, lateral decubitus and prone position) and PEEP, are explored.

Conclusion: The abdomen behaves as a hydraulic system with a normal IAP of about 5-7 mmHg, and with higher baseline levels in morbidly obese patients of about 9-14 mmHg. Measuring IAP via the bladder in the supine position is still the accepted standard method, but in patients in the semi-recumbent position (head of the bed elevated to 30 degrees and 45 degrees ), the IAP on average is 4 and 9 mmHg, respectively, higher. Future research should be focused on developing and validating predictive equations to correct for supine IAP towards the semi-recumbent position. Small increases in IAP in stable patients without IAH, turned prone, have no detrimental effects. The role of prone positioning in the unstable patient with or without IAH still needs to be established.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen / physiology*
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Humans
  • Positive-Pressure Respiration*
  • Posture / physiology*