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Abdominal Abscess: Diagnosis

What is an Abdominal Abscess?

An abdominal abscess is a pocket of pus or collection of infected fluid. They can develop anywhere within the walls of the abdominal cavity, or around organs in the abdomen, such as the liver, pancreas, and kidneys.

An untreated abdominal abscess can be life threatening. In some cases it may grow, causing damage to nearby organs and blood vessels. Bacteria can also enter the bloodstream, spreading to other organs and tissues. This spread can be fatal. In order to avoid delayed diagnosis, ensure imaging tests are interpreted by an experienced subspecialist.

An abdominal abscess that is caused by bacteria usually develops as a result of trauma, rupture of the bowel, or abdominal surgery. Bacteria can also enter the abdominal cavity or nearby organ from preexisting conditions, such as appendicitis, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis.

How is an Abdominal Abscess Detected?

Most patients with an abdominal abscess experience pain and discomfort in their abdomen. Nausea, fever, and loss of appetite are also common symptoms.

If a physician suspects a patient may have an abdominal abscess, a CT of the abdomen or pelvis will usually be the first test ordered. An X-Ray, MRI, or ultrasound may also be used to help distinguish whether or not an abscess is present. These tests all help in identifying the source, size, and position of the abscess.

An abdominal abscess causes death in about 10 to 40% of people. To avoid complications, the condition must be promptly diagnosed and treated. To ensure an accurate diagnosis, imaging tests should be interpreted by a radiologist who specializes in abdominal imaging.

Diagnosing An Abdominal Abscess

An abdominal abscess can form for many reasons. Narrowing in on the exact location can help a diagnosing physician determine the cause, which plays a crucial role in determining the best treatment plan.

An abdominal abscess can easily be misdiagnosed because early symptoms are generally mild and can easily be mistakenly attributed to something less serious.

CT is generally the best diagnostic tool for abdominal abscesses. But accurately identifying an abscess requires experience and expertise in abdominal imaging. In order to prevent a delayed diagnosis and ensure accuracy, imaging tests should be interpreted by an abdominal subspecialty radiologist.

Once an abdominal abscess has been detected, a sample of the fluid may be taken to find out what type of bacteria is present in the abscess.

Common Causes of an Abdominal Abscess

In some cases, a patient may develop an abdominal abscess for no apparent reason. However, most often, an abdominal abscess will develop when bacteria spreads from a preexisting condition, such as appendicitis, diverticulitis, Crohn’s disease, pancreatitis, or pelvic inflammatory disease. Perforation of the intestine can also lead to an abdominal abscess.

Other causes that increase the risk of developing an abdominal abscess include:

  • Trauma
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Ulcer
  • Cancer (weakened immune system)
  • Surgery in the abdominal area

Get a Subspecialty Second Opinion Today

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Not sure what a subspecialist is? Learn more with our in-depth article on the importance of getting a second opinion from a subspecialty radiologist.

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