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Am Surg. 1996 Mar;62(3):218-22.

Nonoperative management for intra-abdominal abscesses.

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Department of Surgery, Georgia Baptist Medical Center, Atlanta, Georgia.


Percutaneous drainage of an intra-abdominal abscess is utilized frequently. To evaluate its effectiveness at our institution over 16 months, 18 patients (mean age 49 years) who underwent radiologically directed percutaneous drainage of intra-abdominal abscesses were retrospectively reviewed. The abscesses were postoperative in 14 patients (laparotomy, 5; appendectomy, 4; colectomy, 3; hysterectomy, 2). Primary abscesses were due to diverticular disease (3), perforated appendicitis (3), perforated colon carcinoma (1), and perforated peptic ulcer (1). Percutaneous drainage was ultimately established in all patients with complete resolution of the abscesses occurring in 12 patients (67%). The average duration for drainage was 5.5 days (range 1-23). Average length of hospital stay after the establishment of drainage was 14.6 days (range 1-48). Six patients required surgical procedures because of inadequate abscess drainage (4) or continued clinical deterioration (2). There were no deaths. A major complication (colon perforation, enteric fistula) occurred in two patients (11%). Catheter-related problems were common (7/18 patients), and included drain migration (3), inadequate drainage, and catheter obstruction(2). Four patients required multiple percutaneous drainage procedures. Despite technical feasibility and clinical success in the majority of patients, percutaneous drainage of these intra-abdominal abscesses had frequent catheter-related complications. One-third of patients (31.8%) required surgical intervention despite a prolonged period (average 15 days) of percutaneous drainage. Patients demonstrated to have nonresolving abscesses by computer tomography (CT), abscesses associated with colonic diverticular disease of colon cancer, and abscesses localized to the left lower quadrant were noted to have less successful percutaneous abscess drainage. Patients with a persistent of rising leukocyte count and/or an elevated APACHE II score prior to drainage should be routinely reevaluated at 4 days. Earlier surgical intervention is felt to be warranted because these two factors in this study were indicative of a low nonoperative success rate. Post-appendectomy abscesses uniformly demonstrated prompt response to percutaneous drainage. CT-directed percutaneous drainage of intra-abdominal abscesses provides an alternative to immediate surgical intervention. The preliminary findings from this study suggest a limited application of this intervention in one-third of patients. Further detailed analysis of this patient group is required to delineate guidelines for identifying those patients where percutaneous drainage is unlikely to be successful.

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