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What is a Bowel Abscess?

By Meshell Powell
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A bowel abscess is a medical condition in which swelling is present in the colon as a result of pus which has collected in that area of the body. Infection is the most common reason an abscess develops. Diverticulitis is a relatively widespread disorder and is the most prevalent source of the infection responsible for the formation and accumulation of the pus in a bowel abscess. Other sources include Crohn's disease, peritonitis and Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID).

Diverticulitis is a disorder of the digestive system and primarily affects the large intestine, also referred to as the colon or bowel. The bowel abscess develops as a result of the diverticulitis. However, diverticulitis itself is a direct result of a different medical condition known as diverticulosis. In diverticulosis, pockets known as diverticula develop within the large intestine. The presence of these pockets can cause pain in the lower left portion of the abdomen, although many people with this condition do not have any symptoms at all.

Infection of the diverticulum leading to a bowel abscess can be due to various complications arising from diverticulosis. Bleeding and tearing are often contributing factors to the development of the abscess. Intestinal obstruction is also a frequent cause of the infected state known as diverticulitis. If diagnosed early enough, dietary changes can sometimes help prevent this type of infection from developing.

Peritonitis, or inflammation of the abdominal membrane, is another potential cause of bowel abscess. Infection or appendicitis are among the most common causes of peritonitis. Physical trauma involving the abdomen also has the potential to cause an injury severe enough for an abscess to form. Pancreatitis, Crohn's disease, and Pelvic Inflammatory Disease also increase the risk of developing abscesses.

Abdominal pain accompanied by fever and a general feeling of weakness should be reported to a medical professional right away. If a bowel abscess is present, an early diagnosis can often prevent some of the more serious complications, including sepsis, from arising due to the formation of a bowel abscess. Antibiotics are generally prescribed in an effort to rid the body of infection. Surgical intervention is often necessary to repair the damage caused by the abscess.

Once diagnosed with an abscess, the prognosis will depend upon a variety of factors. Some of these include the underlying medical condition leading to the development of the abscess as well as the patient's overall health and response to the treatment. Many patients report pain relief as well as an increased quality of life after undergoing treatment for this condition.

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Discussion Comments
By anon317190 — On Feb 01, 2013

My grandma has just had an operation to remove a bowel abscess. She was in and out of the hospital for nearly a year and they never knew what it was until transferring her to another hospital. It was then after being there for less than 24 hours they found out what actually was going on. since it had been going on for so long, they've had to remove part of her bowel, leaving her with a bag. If they had actually bothered about her instead of cancelling meetings to diagnose her sooner, she might have been able to avoid this life changing operation.

By Azuza — On Apr 26, 2012

A good friend of my family had to have surgery for a bowel blockage that turned out to be caused by a bowel abscess. The abscess was so large that it was actually blocking the passage of waste through the bowel! They originally tried antibiotics first, but the drugs pretty much did nothing to get rid of the abscess, so they had to do surgery.

The whole thing was a pretty serious operation, but our friend came through it fine. He had to take antibiotics for awhile after the surgery too though.

By JessicaLynn — On Apr 26, 2012

@StrawCake - That's a good question. Hopefully most bowel abscesses are caught in the beginning, because it sounds like they can be pretty serious if they aren't caught in time. They can even cause sepsis, which is basically an infection of the entire body that is often fatal. Scary.

Anyway, I had no idea that some common colon diseases could actually cause a bowel abscess. I suppose it makes sense though, because some of those diseases really irritate the colon and probably leave it more susceptible to contracting infections.

By strawCake — On Apr 25, 2012

Wow, for whatever reason I always thought the symptoms of an abdominal abscess would be a little more dramatic. Fever, abdominal pain, and general weakness aren't very severe, or specific. You could have all those symptoms just from having the stomach flu!

I wonder if a lot of bowel abscesses are misdiagnosed, or not diagnosed right away? I imagine most people wouldn't have a fever and stomach ache and think, "Oh no! I must have a bowel abscess." Unless of course they were suffering from a disease like Pelvic Inflammatory disease or Crohn's disease that's known to cause bowel abscesses, of course.

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