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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.