What is a Subphrenic Abscess?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
A ruptured appendix can cause a subphrenic abscess.
A ruptured appendix can cause a subphrenic abscess.

A subphrenic abscess is a buildup of pus and other body fluids in an area of the abdomen called the subphrenic space, positioned between the diaphragm and the colon. This medical condition is most commonly the result of a surgical procedure in the abdomen or a perforated ulcer or infection. It is treated with surgery to drain the fluid and antibiotics to address infection. Patients with this condition are most commonly older adults, although a subphrenic abscess can occur in patients of any age.

A subphrenic abscess will likely be visible on an abdominal X-ray.
A subphrenic abscess will likely be visible on an abdominal X-ray.

This condition occurs when infectious material is released into the subphrenic space, where it can float freely and travel as the contents of the abdomen move. After either exploratory or therapeutic surgical procedures, it is possible for an infection to develop and turn into a subphrenic abscess. These abscesses can also occur when a patient with a severely inflamed gallbladder or appendix experiences a rupture, when an anastomosis in the bowel ruptures, or when an ulcer in the stomach perforates through to the abdomen.

A subphrenic abscess is commonly a result of a perforated ulcer.
A subphrenic abscess is commonly a result of a perforated ulcer.

Patients can develop symptoms like tenderness and pressure in the abdomen, fever, restlessness, nausea, fatigue, and a feeling of general malaise. The subphrenic abscess will be clearly visible on medical imaging studies like ultrasounds and X-rays, and the abdomen may also feel tender to the touch. If the patient is unstable, medications may be prescribed to get the patient healthy enough for surgery. Once the patient is stable, a surgeon opens up the site of the abscess, drains the material, irrigates it, and implants a tube.

Tenderness and pressure in the abdomen are two of the more common symptoms of a subphrenic abscess.
Tenderness and pressure in the abdomen are two of the more common symptoms of a subphrenic abscess.

The tube will allow additional pus and other materials to drain as the subphrenic abscess heals. During the surgery, the surgeon will also address the cause of the abscess, performing a repair or removal as needed to stop the buildup of infected material. When the patient wakes up, antibiotics will be administered to address infection, and the tube's output will be monitored as material drains. As the patient heals, the tube will be gradually shortened, until it can be removed altogether.

A subphrenic abscess may cause fever, fatigue, and general malaise.
A subphrenic abscess may cause fever, fatigue, and general malaise.

Subphrenic abscess is one of the possible risks of abdominal surgery, and it is a potential complication of untreated inflammation, infection, and ulceration in the abdomen. Patients at risk for this condition may be advised to monitor their health carefully for any signs of emerging complications. This will allow issues like a subphrenic abscess to be addressed as quickly as possible, ideally before the patient's health has been permanently compromised.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard 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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    • A ruptured appendix can cause a subphrenic abscess.
      By: dr_ox
      A ruptured appendix can cause a subphrenic abscess.
    • A subphrenic abscess will likely be visible on an abdominal X-ray.
      By: alkerk
      A subphrenic abscess will likely be visible on an abdominal X-ray.
    • A subphrenic abscess is commonly a result of a perforated ulcer.
      By: p6m5
      A subphrenic abscess is commonly a result of a perforated ulcer.
    • Tenderness and pressure in the abdomen are two of the more common symptoms of a subphrenic abscess.
      By: MediablitzImages
      Tenderness and pressure in the abdomen are two of the more common symptoms of a subphrenic abscess.
    • A subphrenic abscess may cause fever, fatigue, and general malaise.
      By: Кирилл Рыжов
      A subphrenic abscess may cause fever, fatigue, and general malaise.
    • Restlessness may be a symptom of a subphrenic abscess.
      By: Monkey Business
      Restlessness may be a symptom of a subphrenic abscess.
    • A subphrenic abscess may occur as a result of a perforated ulcer, whose symptoms may include pain in the chest.
      By: Chutimon
      A subphrenic abscess may occur as a result of a perforated ulcer, whose symptoms may include pain in the chest.