Paracolic gutters are open areas between the wall of the abdomen and the colon. These gutters are used to drain infectious material away from the essential internal organs. There are two paracolic gutters in the body, the right and left lateral paracolic gutter. This abdominal space may also be referred to as the paracolic recesses or the sulci paracolici, but is different from the paramesenteric gutters.
Both paracolic gutters run laterally along the back side of the abdominal wall and are situated between the abdominal wall and the outer margin of the colon. The right lateral gutter is much larger and allows for greater drainage than the left gutter. It runs along the right side of the abdominal cavity and begins at the ascending portion of the colon from the right hepatic flexure, or the point where the colon turns from the ascending colon to the transverse colon. This gutter then continues downward and ends below at the cecum and the terminal ileum, or the part where the ileum attaches to the cecum. The right paracolic gutter is continuous with the perisplenic space or area around the spleen.
The left gutter runs between the descending colon and the abdominal wall and, just like the right gutter, empties into the lower abdomen and pelvic area. This gutter is, however, much smaller because it is restricted at the top by the phrenicocolic ligament, or the ligament supporting the top left edge of the colon. The phrenicocolic ligament prevents the left gutter from being continuous with the perisplenic space.
Paracolic gutters function to drain fluid that leaks from the colon, such as infectious matter, pus or bile, and to prevent infection or damage to the outer margin of the colon. This drainage occurs in much the same way that the gutters on a house draw the rain off the roof. In the abdominal cavity, fluid leaches from the colon into either the left or the right lateral gutter and then drains down the gutter into the pelvic area. Drainage in patients lying down can be reversed with infectious material from an infected appendix, located near the cecum, running up the right paracolic gutter.
These gutters are sometimes confused with another set of recesses, called the left and right paramesenteric gutters, which together make up the four main open spaces in the abdomen. Paramesenteric gutters are located between the colon and the mesentery, which is the part of the peritoneum that supports the internal organs. The paramesenteric gutters also function to drain fluid away.