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What is the Abdominal Cavity?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The abdominal cavity is a large cavity in the body that contains the major viscera. This body cavity is the largest in the body, but it is far from an empty space. In fact, it is quite full of various important organs that are ingeniously packed into place.

Above the abdominal cavity is the thoracic cavity, which contains the lungs and heart. The two are separated by a layer of tough tissue known as the diaphragm. The thoracic cavity is also distinguished from the abdomen because it is surrounded by the rib cage, which provides extra support and protection to the organs inside. The abdomen, by contrast, has no cage of bone to protect its contents. Below it is the pelvic cavity. It is not actually physically separated from the cavity above, but contains different organs with different functions, and it is treated as separate.

The entirety of the abdomen is lined with the peritoneum. This lining serves a number of important functions, including protecting the organs it surrounds, supplying blood flow to the organs, anchoring organs in place, and absorbing impacts which may be sustained. There are several layers of peritoneum separated with a layer of serous fluid which provides lubrication so that the layers can slide past each other.

The abdominal cavity contains the alimentary organs, including the large and small intestines along with the liver, kidneys, spleen, and adrenal glands. It's actually quite cramped in this area in most animals because the intestines are extremely long to allow the body to digest food. One problem that can emerge in this body cavity is peritonitis, in which inflammation sets in and spreads across the abdominal organs. Inflammation can be the result of puncture wounds, surgeries, or systemic issues inside the abdomen, such as a cancer which is left untreated.

Surgical procedures in the abdominal cavity are often performed by a general surgeon, although surgeons in other areas of specialty may have cause to enter the abdomen during procedures. Surgery to this area is usually considered major because it comes with a number of risks for the patient. The development of endoscopic surgery has radically reduced the risks of abdominal surgery by eliminating the need for open incisions with many surgical procedures. In addition to being less risky, such procedures have a dramatically decreased healing time and usually cause less pain for the patient.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

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

Discussion Comments
By wavy58 — On Sep 01, 2011

The closeness of the organs in the abdominal cavity can make it hard to tell which one is in pain. So, when I experienced extreme pain across my belly button, I assumed it was probably intestinal, but I was wrong.

Even my doctor thought my pain was related to my digestive system. She diagnosed me with irritable bowel syndrome and medicated me for that.

However, the pain persisted. So, she decided I needed a CT scan. This revealed that I had a kidney disease.

Kidney pain can be felt all throughout the abdominal cavity. I have felt it in my back, in my left and right front sides, and across my waist. Now, whenever I have pain in my abdominal cavity, I attribute it to my kidneys.

By orangey03 — On Aug 31, 2011

My dad often has lower abdominal pain. He found out years ago that he has diverticulitis, and this means that sections of his intestines protrude and become inflamed. Sometimes, they get infected and he has to take antibiotics.

When he first started having the pains, he wasn’t sure where they were originating from, though he knew they were occurring in his abdominal cavity. The first episode he had hurt on his right side, so he feared it could be appendicitis. The second episode hurt on the left, so he was confused.

When he had debilitating pain across the middle of his abdominal cavity, he went to the doctor, who diagnosed him with diverticulitis. He now knows that it can cause pain anywhere in his abdominal cavity.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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