Abdominal abscesses can be life threatening without prompt medical attention. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential in preventing serious complications.

An abdominal abscess is a collection of pus that forms in the abdomen. Left untreated, it can lead to life threatening complications.

This article overviews the types, locations, symptoms, and treatment options for abdominal abscesses.

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An abdominal abscess is a serious medical condition that can lead to severe complications without early diagnosis and treatment. Complications can include:

The condition can also be fatal.

Types of abdominal abscesses include:

  • Intra-abdominal abscesses: These develop within the abdomen. Doctors can further classify them as visceral abscesses or nonvisceral abscesses. Visceral abscesses develop in a visceral organ, such as the liver, spleen, or pancreas. Nonvisceral abscesses develop in the space between two organs, such as the subphrenic space or the pelvis.
  • Postoperative abscesses: These form after surgery. Several factors can cause them, including infection of a surgical incision, fluid leakage from a hollow organ, or retained foreign materia.
  • Spontaneous abscesses: These develop without any obvious cause. They are more common in people with underlying medical conditions, such as Crohn’s disease.

Abdominal abscesses can appear in various parts of the body. Some examples of abscesses found in different areas include:

  • Pelvic abscesses: These form in the pelvis.
  • Retroperitoneal abscesses: These develop behind the peritoneum, the moist tissue membrane that lines the abdominal cavity and covers the abdominal organs.
  • Subphrenic abscesses: These form in the space between the diaphragm and the liver.
  • Peritoneal abscesses: These develop within the peritoneal cavity, or space, that contains the intestines, the stomach, and the liver.

The symptoms of an abdominal abscess vary depending on its location. However, some general symptoms that may be present include:

A subphrenic abscess may cause:

A pelvic abscess may cause:

People with postsurgery abscesses may not realize until complications arise, as antibiotics can often mask the symptoms of an infection. This makes diagnosis and treatment challenging.

The most common cause of abdominal abscesses is a localized infection. However, abdominal abscesses can develop due to a variety of factors, including:

Treatment for an abdominal abscess depends on its size and location. However, the most common approach combines antibiotics and drainage.

There are two main ways to drain an abdominal abscess:

  • Percutaneous drainage: This is a minimally invasive procedure in which a surgeon inserts a needle into the abscess under imaging guidance and drains the pus. Percutaneous CT-guided drainage is generally the optimal treatment for abdominal abscesses.
  • Surgical drainage: This is a more invasive procedure that involves opening and draining the abscess.

In addition to drainage, people with abdominal abscesses may also need supportive care, such as intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and pain relief medication.

The outlook for people with abdominal abscesses depends on many factors, including the size and location of the abscess, the person’s age and overall health, and how quickly they receive treatment.

The outlook is generally good for people who receive prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment. However, the outlook may worsen if the abscess is large, does not respond to treatment, or if multiple organs are involved.

An abdominal abscess is a serious condition that can be life threatening. It is usually the result of an infection in the abdominal cavity, such as appendicitis or diverticulitis.

Initial treatment for an abdominal abscess involves a combination of antibiotics and drainage. Percutaneous drainage is often the first line of treatment for an intra-abdominal abscess.