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Am J Surg. 1997 Dec;174(6):667-72; discussion 672-3.

Prospective characterization and selective management of the abdominal compartment syndrome.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, Denver Health Medical Center and University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, 80204, USA.



The abdominal compartment syndrome (ACS) is now recognized as a frequent confounder of surgical critical care following major trauma; however, few prospective data exist concerning its characterization, evolution, and response to decompression.


Acutely injured patients with an injury severity scale (ISS) score >15 requiring emergent laparotomy and intensive care unit (ICU) admission were prospectively evaluated for the development of ACS. The syndrome was defined as an intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) >20 mm Hg complicated by one of the following: peak airway pressure (PAP) >40 cm H2O, oxygen delivery index (DO2I) <600 mL O2/min/m2, or urine output (UO) <0.5 mL/kg/hr. Physiologic response to decompression was similarly documented prospectively.


Over a 14-month period ending December 1995, 21 (14%) of 145 patients (ISS >15) requiring laparotomy and admitted to our surgical ICU developed ACS; mean age was 39 +/- 9 years; injury mechanism was blunt in 60%; ISS 26 +/- 6. At initial laparotomy, 67% underwent abdominal packing (57% for major liver injuries). Mean IAP was 27 +/- 2.3 mm Hg, and time from laparotomy to decompression was 27 +/- 4 hours; 24% were planned whereas the remaining were prompted by deteriorating organ function as defined above (cardiopulmonary in 43%; renal in 19%; both renal and cardiopulmonary in 14%). Following decompression, there was an increase in cardiac index, oxygen delivery, urine output, and static compliance while there was a decrease in pulmonary capillary wedge pressure, systemic vascular resistance, and peak airway pressure.


The abdominal compartment syndrome occurs in a significant number of severely injured patients, and it develops quickly (27 +/- 4 hours). Cardiopulmonary deterioration is the most frequent reason prompting decompression. Timely decompression of the ACS results in improvements in cardiopulmonary and renal function. These data support the use of the proposed ACS grading system for selective management of the syndrome.

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