Acute Compartment Syndrome - Medical Malpractice Lawyers
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Acute Compartment Syndrome Overview
Acute compartment syndrome is a very serious disease that occurs when too much pressure builds up within an enclosed system in the body. It usually occurs in the arms or legs. It often happens after a serious blow or crush injury to the extremity, leading to swelling or bleeding within an injury. The pressure builds up so much that it exceeds the blood pressure to the extremity and blood flow is blocked. The lack of blood flow to the extremity at and distal to the injury can become an emergency with loss of limb a potential side effect. Surgery is usually the only effective treatment.
In the extremities, muscle and tissues are divided into compartments. There is connective tissue that confines each set of muscles and tissues in the body. The connective tissue is known as fascia. After an injury, there is edema or bleeding following an injury and, unfortunately the fascia does not stretch and the pressure builds up inside the fascial compartment. The pressure builds up and there can be severe tissue damage with a loss of function of the extremity. Poisons build up within the compartment and death can result. Compartment syndrome can also occur in the abdominal tissues.
The major causes of acute compartment syndrome are a fracture of the arm or leg. This is true about ¾ of the time that acute compartment syndrome occurs. The length of time that acute compartment syndrome occurs over is several hours to a few days. The syndrome can develop from the actual fracture and be due to acute swelling or bleeding. It can also be due to situations that happen as a result of treating the fracture, such as surgery on the fracture or casting the fracture.
It doesn’t have to take a bony fracture to cause acute compartment syndrome. Other causes of acute compartment syndrome include the following:
- Crush injuries
- Tight bandaging
- Compression of a limb can happen during a prolonged period of loss of consciousness
- Surgery to vessels within an arm or a leg
- Vigorous exercise
- Blood clot occurring in an extremity
- Taking anabolic steroids can play a role in getting compartment syndrome
There is an additional form of compartment syndrome, known as chronic compartment syndrome. It happens over days to weeks and is also known as exertional compartment syndrome. It is often caused by regular vigorous exercising and affects the buttocks, lower legs and thighs.
When you get abdominal compartment syndrome, it is usually after surgery, a severe injury or because of a critical illness. Some things that cause acute abdominal compartment syndrome include:
- Shock from trauma
- Surgery on the abdomen, especially liver transplant surgery
- Severe burns
- A severe case of ascites
- Abdominal bleeding
- Overtraining using the abdominal muscles
When the pressure in the abdominal compartment gets too big, the blood flow that goes to the abdominal organs goes down with permanent damage to the liver to the kidneys, liver and bowel tissue.
Symptoms of compartment syndrome depend on the extremity or abdomen involved. In acute compartment syndrome, this can occur within a few hours or a few days following the insult. The symptoms include the following:
- New onset of deep pain in the arm or leg
- Pain that is out of proportion to what is expected given the injury severity
- Numbness, electricity and pins and needles going up and down the extremity
- Swelling in the extremities along with tightness and bruising of the affected area
If you have chronic compartment syndrome, you get aching or cramping of the muscle area affected within a half hour of beginning the exercise. The symptoms go away at rest and can be confused with shin splints.
In abdominal compartment syndrome, it is seen in people who are critically ill and on life support. The patients have no feeling of having the problem and the staff will note the signs of the disease:
- A distended abdomen
- Showing pain when the abdomen is pressed on
- Low urine output
- Reduce blood pressure
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The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here