What is an Abdominal Infection?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An abdominal infection is an infection which occurs in the abdomen, the area of the body between the thorax and the pelvis. There are a number of causes of abdominal infection, ranging from ruptured organs to surgical procedures, and these infections can be life-threatening if not treated promptly and aggressively. Treatment plans often include hospitalization, since the patient needs to be carefully monitored.

Gastrointestinal distress is common with an abdominal infection.
Gastrointestinal distress is common with an abdominal infection.

Abdominal infections occur when the normally relatively clean environment of the abdomen is exposed to bacteria. This may occur when a rupture or lesion occurs in an abdominal organ, releasing bacteria into the abdominal cavity, or when someone experiences abdominal trauma, in which case the bacteria could be introduced through a wound in the abdomen. Surgery can also lead to infections in the abdomen if the conditions are not perfectly sterile, and sometimes a surface injury can perforate into the abdomen, releasing a flood of bacteria.

Intravenous fluids may be given in serious abdominal infection cases.
Intravenous fluids may be given in serious abdominal infection cases.

For patients, these infections are bad news, because the infection can rapidly spread to the abdominal organs, causing organ failure which will lead to shock, coma, and eventual death. The infection can also cause sepsis, in which case it may spread to other parts of the body. Abdominal infections are also notoriously difficult to treat. Treatment may include opening up the abdomen for surgical cleaning and debridement, in which infected material is removed and the abdominal cavity is flushed with antibacterial cleansers, and the patient is also usually given antibiotics in an attempt to combat the bacteria causing the infection.

A doctor may feel rigidness in the abdomen, indicating the possibility of an abdominal infection.
A doctor may feel rigidness in the abdomen, indicating the possibility of an abdominal infection.

To address concerns about the possibility of organ failure as a result of abdominal infection, a patient may be given supportive care such as intravenous fluids. If shock does set in as a result of infection, interventions such as connection to a ventilator may be used to keep the patient alive while the medical team fights the infection.

A gastrointestinal infection typically causes diarrhea.
A gastrointestinal infection typically causes diarrhea.

Symptoms of an abdominal infection can vary. Redness, tenderness, and swelling of the abdominal region are common, and the area may feel rigid upon palpation. Patients can also experience gastrointestinal distress, along with symptoms of organ damage which can vary from decreased urine output to jaundice. If the infection has progressed, the patient may have an altered level of consciousness, a depressed appetite, and a sensation of lethargy and extreme exhaustion.

An abdominal infection can be life-threatening if not treated promptly and aggressively.
An abdominal infection can be life-threatening if not treated promptly and aggressively.

Because many of the risk factors for abdominal infections are well known, when a risk factor like recent surgery or abdominal trauma is present, a medical team will usually issue prophylactic antibiotics to the patient to prevent infection, and the patient will be monitored quickly for the early signs of infection. If an infection is detected, prompt medical attention is required to prevent complications which can vary from permanent organ damage to death.

A patient with an abdominal infection may need the support of a ventilator.
A patient with an abdominal infection may need the support of a ventilator.
Some patients with an abdominal infection may lapse into coma.
Some patients with an abdominal infection may lapse into coma.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

FirstViolin

Does anybody know how common it is to have an abdominal wound infection?

My son is going in to get his appendix removed and I want to get as much information about any potential post-op conditions as I can.

pharmchick78

One of the weirdest ones I've ever heard of is an abdominal yeast infection, which occurs as part of a systemic yeast infection.

Abdominal yeast infections usually present with pain to the abdomen, irritable bowel syndrome, excessive flatulence, and constipation.

In some cases, oral thrush or a classic vaginal yeast infection will also show up.

Abdominal yeast infections are serious, and should be taken as such.

Doctors can diagnose one via a stool sample and blood panel, and recommend appropriate treatment, but only if you ask. So even though some of the symptoms are embarrassing, speak up!

CopperPipe

Intestinal infection symptoms are similar to those of abdominal infection.

However, symptoms of intestinal infections also include diarrhea, sleep disorders, and in some cases, depression.

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