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Disorders of the Abdominal Cavity

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Below the thoracic cavity and above the pelvic cavity is the abdominal cavity, an area of the body that contains several organs. The large intestine, gallbladder, stomach, kidneys, liver, pancreas, spleen and small intestine are found in the abdominal cavity.

Lining the abdominal cavity is the peritoneum. Several disorders can affect the abdominal cavity or its lining.

Intra-Abdominal Abscess

When an individual has intra-abdominal abscess, she has a collection of pus in her abdominal cavity.

Several disorders can cause an intra-abdominal abscess, including a ruptured intestinal diverticulum, inflammatory bowel disease, a ruptured appendix, and infection of the parasite Entamoeba histolytica in the intestines.

Having a history of perforated ulcer disease, appendicitis and diverticulitis can increase an individual’s risk of developing an intra-abdominal abscess.

Symptoms include weakness, lack of appetite, vomiting, fever, diarrhea, nausea and chills. Patients may have abdominal pain and rectal tenderness and fullness.

To diagnose an intra-abdominal abscess, the physician will order a complete blood count and CT scan of the abdomen. Treatment involves intravenous antibiotics and drainage of the abscess.

If the abscess cannot be safely drained with an x-ray guided needle, surgery will be done, according to MedlinePlus.


An inflammation of the peritoneum is called peritonitis. Intra-abdominal abscess may cause peritonitis. An individual may have secondary peritonitis, which occurs when bacteria enter the peritoneum through a gastrointestinal tract perforation, bile leaking into the peritoneum, or if foreign contaminants enter into the lining.

If an individual has spontaneous peritonitis, an infection of ascites usually causes it, noted MedlinePlus.

With peritonitis, the patient has a tender or very painful abdomen, which worsens with being touched or when the patient moves. Bloating, nausea, vomiting, chills and excessive fatigue may occur.

The person may pass less urine, gas or stools. To diagnose peritonitis, the physician will perform a physical exam.

If needed, she may order additional tests, such as a CT scan, x-rays or blood tests. Treatment includes antibiotics and surgery.


With ascites, an individual has excess fluid between the abdominal cavity and the peritoneum. MedlinePlus noted that usually, an individual who has ascites has severe liver disease, such as cirrhosis.

Certain types of cancers may lead to the development of ascites, which include ovarian cancer, liver cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer and endometrial cancer.

Other possible causes include kidney dialysis, pancreatitis, portal vein thrombosis and congestive heart failure.

When there is a small amount of accumulated fluid, patients do not have symptoms. However, as the amount of fluid increases, symptoms develop.

Patients may experience bloating and abdominal pain, with the possibility of a shortness of breath. Diagnostic tests for ascites include a physical examination, urinalysis, 24-hour urine collection and a liver enzyme test.

Patients may take diuretics, starting with spironolactone and later furosemide, to reduce the fluid buildup. Antibiotics may be prescribed if an infection occurs.

Lifestyle changes can help with ascites. Patients should avoid consuming alcohol and limit their salt consumption to 1,500 mg a day.


MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Intra-Abdominal Abscess. Web. 16 May 2012.

MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Peritonitis – Secondary. Web. 16 May 2012.

MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Peritonitis – Spontaneous. Web. 16 May 2012.

MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Peritonitis. Web. 16 May 2012

MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Ascites. Web. 16 May 2012

Reviewed May 16, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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