What Is an Abdominal Abscess?
An abscess is a pocket of inflamed tissue filled with pus.
Abscesses can form anywhere on the body (inside and outside). They’re most
commonly found on the surface of the skin.
An abdominal abscess is a pocket of pus located in the abdomen.
It may form:
- behind the abdominal cavity (which contains most
of the digestive organs)
- below the diaphragm (the muscle used during inhalation)
- within the abdominal compartment
Abdominal abscesses can also form in or around organs in the
abdomen, including the liver, pancreas, and kidneys. Abdominal abscesses may develop
for no apparent reason, but they’re usually caused by a bacterial infection.
They can also occur after intra-abdominal surgery, or after an injury to the
What Causes an Abdominal Abscess to Form?
Abdominal abscesses are normally caused by trauma or infection. Intra-abdominal abscesses (abscesses
within the abdomen) can develop when an organ ruptures or an infection or
inflammation caused by other conditions spreads. Such conditions include appendicitis, pancreatitis,
and Crohn’s disease.
Depending on where the abdominal abscess is located, additional causes may be
Mid-abdomen abscesses usually form due to a ruptured organ in the
mid-abdominal region, such as the intestines or appendix. They can also stem
from diseases that affect the abdominal organs, such as irritable
bowel disease. An infected wound in the area may also cause an abscess to
Below the Diaphragm
Abdominal abscesses develop below the diaphragm when infected
fluid gets into the area. This is normally the result of an internal injury or
Behind the Abdominal Cavity
Retroperitoneal abscesses, abscesses behind the abdominal cavity,
are located on or behind the peritoneum. The peritoneum is the membrane that
lines the abdominal organs and cavity. Abscesses may form when the surrounding
organs become inflamed or infected.
What Are the Symptoms of an Abdominal
General symptoms of abdominal abscesses include:
- feeling unwell
- abdominal discomfort
- abdominal pain
If an infection is present, you may also develop:
- weight loss (due to loss of appetite)
Additional symptoms can occur depending on the location of the
abdominal abscess. These symptoms include:
- sharp or dull pain in the area containing the
- lower back pain, typically in the area behind
the abdominal abscess, that becomes worse when you move your hips
- diarrhea (often a symptom of a pelvic abscess)
- pain on the right side of your abdomen (symptom
of a liver abscess)
How Is an Abdominal Abscess Diagnosed?
The symptoms of an abdominal abscess are similar to symptoms of
other, less serious conditions. Your doctor may run an imaging test to make a
proper diagnosis. An ultrasound is typically the first diagnostic tool used. Other
imaging tests, such as a CT scan or MRI, also help your doctor see the
abdominal organs and tissues.
An abdominal ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to create
images of organs in the abdomen.
During the test, you’ll lay on a table with your abdomen exposed.
An ultrasound technician will apply a clear, water-based gel to the skin over
the abdomen. Then they’ll wave a handheld tool called a transducer over the
abdomen. The transducer sends out high-frequency sound waves that bounce off
body structures and organs. The waves are sent to a computer, which uses the
waves to create images. The images allow your doctor to closely examine organs
in the abdomen.
Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan
A CT scan is a special X-ray that can show cross-sectional images
of a specific area of the body.
The CT scanner looks like a large circle with a hole in the
middle, called a gantry. During the scan, you’ll lay flat on a table, which is
positioned in the gantry. The gantry then begins to rotate around you, taking images
of your abdomen from many angles. This gives your doctor a complete view of the
A CT scan can display ruptures, localized abscesses, organs,
abdominal growths, and foreign objects in the body.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
An MRI uses large magnets and radio waves to create images of the
body. The MRI machine is a long magnetic tube.
During this test, you’ll lie on a bed that slides into the tube’s
opening. The machine produces a magnetic field that surrounds your body and
aligns water molecules in your body. This allows the machine to capture clear,
cross-sectional images of your abdomen.
An MRI makes it easier for your doctor to check for abnormalities
in the tissues and organs in the abdomen.
Abscess Fluid Sample Analysis
Your doctor may take a sample of fluid from the abscess and
examine it to make a better diagnosis. The method for obtaining a fluid sample
depends on the location of the abscess.
How Is an Abdominal Abscess Treated?
the first step in treating an abdominal abscess. Needle drainage is one of the methods used to drain pus from
During this procedure, your doctor will use a CT scan or
ultrasound to insert a needle through your skin and directly into the abscess. Your
doctor will then pull up on the syringe to remove all the fluid. After draining
the abscess, your doctor will send a sample to the lab for analysis. This will
help determine which antibiotics to prescribe.
Some cases may require surgery. For example:
- to clean out the abscess
- if the abscess is difficult to reach with a
- if an organ has ruptured
Your doctor will give you general anesthesia to put you to sleep
throughout the surgery. During the procedure, the surgeon will make a cut in
the abdomen and locate the abscess. They’ll then clean the abscess and attach a
drain to it so pus can drain out. The drain will stay in place until the
abscess heals. This usually takes several days or weeks.
usually prescribed to treat the infection causing the abscess and to prevent
infection from the drainage procedure.