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A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Intra-abdominal abscess

Abscess - intra-abdominal

Last reviewed: August 10, 2012.

An intra-abdominal abscess is a pocket of infected fluid and pus located inside the belly (abdominal cavity). There may be more than one abscess.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

An intra-abdominal abscess can be caused by a ruptured appendix, ruptured intestinal diverticulum, inflammatory bowel disease, parasite infection in the intestines (Entamoeba histolytica), or other condition.

Risk factors include a history of appendicitis, diverticulitis, perforated ulcer disease, or any surgery that may have infected the abdominal cavity.

Symptoms

Depending on the location, symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain and distention
  • Chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Rectal tenderness and fullness
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness

Signs and tests

A complete blood count may show a higher than normal white blood count. A comprehensive metabolic panel may show liver, kidney, or blood chemistry problems.

A CT scan of the abdomen will usually reveal an intra-abdominal abscess. After the CT scan is done, a needle may be placed through the skin into the abscess cavity to confirm the diagnosis and treat the abscess.

Other tests may include:

  • Abdominal x-ray
  • Ultrasound of the abdomen

Sometimes surgery called a laparotomy may be needed to diagnose this condition.

Treatment

Treatment of an intra-abdominal abscess requires antibiotics (given by an IV) and drainage. Drainage involves placing a needle through the skin in the abscess, usually under x-ray guidance. The drain is then left in place for days or weeks until the abscess goes away.

Occasionally, abscesses cannot be safely drained this way. In such cases, surgery must be done while the patient is under general anesthesia (unconscious and pain-free). A cut is made in the belly area (abdomen), and the abscess is drained and cleaned. A drain is left in the abscess cavity, and remains in place until the infection goes away.

It is always important to identify and treat the cause of the abscess.

Expectations (prognosis)

The outlook depends on the original cause of the abscess and how bad the infection is. Generally, drainage is successful in treating intra-abdominal abscesses that have not spread.

Complications

Complications include:

Calling your health care provider

Call your doctor if you have severe abdominal pain, fevers, nausea, vomiting, or changes in bowel habits.

References

  1. Minei JP, Champine JG. Abdominal abscesses and gastrointestinal fistulas. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran’s Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa:Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 26.
  2. Prather C. Inflammatory and anatomic diseases of the intestine, peritoneum, mesentery, and omentum. In Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 144.

Review Date: 8/10/2012.

Reviewed by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

What works?

  • Antibiotic prophylaxis could be considered for routine in emergency appendectomies.Antibiotic prophylaxis could be considered for routine in emergency appendectomies.
    Appendicitis is the most common cause of acute abdominal pain requiring surgical intervention. This is associated with increased risk of postoperative complications, wound infection being the most commonly reported. Standard prophylaxis is an anti‐bacterial treatment. In order to reduce cost, toxicity and the risk of developing bacterial resistance, it is desirable to establish the shortest and most effective prophylaxis for postoperative complications.
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Figures

  • Intra-abdominal abscess, CT scan.
    Meckels diverticulum.

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