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An intra-abdominal abscess is defined as a pocket in the abdominal cavity that is filled with infected pus and fluid. Such an abscess is normally encased in an inflammatory barrier, keeping the infectious bacteria locked inside a person's abdominal cavity. Bacteria that occur in this localized area of infection are usually from the bowels and will remain in the abdomen until the abscess is treated. If the intra-abdominal abscess is not found and treated quickly, a person may suffer from sepsis, require an extensive hospitalization, or even die. Multiple abscesses can occur at the same time.
There are many causes for an intra-abdominal abscess, including an appendix that has ruptured, a burst diverticulum of the intestines, inflammatory bowel disease, and parasites in the intestines. Surgery is also one of the biggest causes of intra-abdominal abscesses. Trauma to the region of the abdomen, especially trauma to the pancreas, spleen and liver, can result in these puss-filled pockets, as well.
The symptoms of an intra-abdominal abscess can vary but usually include nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, pain in the abdomen, diarrhea and weakness. A person with an abscess may not have any appetite at all. The area where the abscess is may be tender to the touch and, if it is big enough, there may be a lump that can be seen or felt. Abscesses that are located at the top of the abdomen near a person’s diaphragm may produce symptoms similar to those of pneumonia and pleural effusion.
Blood tests are usually used to see if a person’s white cell count is higher than normal. This typically indicates some type of infection. Ultrasounds, CAT scans, abdominal X-rays, and chest X-rays may also be used to help discover an abscess.
When a pocket of infection is found, it can usually be treated with intravenous (IV) antibiotics. A doctor will need to use a catheter or perform surgery to drain the area so the infection is not able to spread. Use of a catheter will only occur if the draining will not interfere with any other organ that has not yet been contaminated, if there are only a couple of pockets to drain, and if there is no risk of contaminating the rest of the body. The infected pus that fills the abscess will also have to be thin enough to pass through the catheter. If these conditions are not met, surgery will be required to drain the intra-abdominal abscess.