Question 8

Define the following terms:

  1. Intra-abdominal Hypertension (IAH)
  2. Abdominal Compartment Syndrome (ACS)
  3. Abdominal Perfusion Pressure (APP)
  • List the steps required to measure the intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) via a catheter inserted in the bladder.
  • List the adverse cardiorespiratory effects of an increase in IAP in a mechanically ventilated patient and outline the physiological mechanisms that account for these effects.

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College Answer

  1. Definitions
    • IAH is defined as a sustained IAP ≥12 mmHg
    • ACS is defined as a sustained IAP >20 mmHg (with or without APP <60 mmHg) that is associated with new organ dysfunction OR as IAH-induced new organ dysfunction without a strict IAP threshold.

(iii) IPP = MAP – IAP

  1. Measuring IAP
    • Patient is supine and no active abdominal muscle contractions
    • Clamp the urinary catheter, after ensuring it is freely flowing and not obstructed.
    • 25 ml of sterile saline is instilled into the bladder via a port in the urinary catheter catheter and the catheter filled with fluid
    • A pressure transducer is connected to the urinary catheter, between the clamp and the bladder
    • Allow 30-60 seconds after instillation of the saline so as to allow for bladder detrusor muscle relaxation
    • Zero transducer at the mid-axillary line and at the level of the iliac crest
    • Measure pressure at end-expiration
  2. Physiological mechanisms

Decreased cardiac output –

  • Reduced venous return - due to intrabdominal venous compression and raised intrathoracic pressure.
  • Increased systemic afterload – due to increased compression of intrabdominal arterial vessels, and PVR due to raised intrathoracic pressure.
  • Decreased Right Ventricular output from raised intrathoracic pressure, raised PVR Increased CVP and LVEDP - Reduced compliance - due to elevation of diaphragm displacing the heart and increased afterload (see above).

Hypotension – decreased cardiac output.


  • Deteriorating O2 A-a gradients due to increased – raised diaphragm and atelectasis, increased intrapulmonary shunt / V/Q mismatch
  • Hypercapnia – decreased chest wall and lung compliance.
  • Increased airway pressure – altered respiratory compliance.


A slightly less formal discussion of abdominal compartment syndrome takes place in Question 21from the second paper of 2006: "Outline the causes, consequences and the management of abdominal  compartment syndrome. "Brief notes on the pathophysiology of abdominal compartment pressure and its measurement are available, with references for the time-rich exam candidate.

First, the definitions. These are derived from a 2011 consensus statement, from which much of the below information is derived.

Specifically, the definitions were copied verbatim from Table 1, "Consensus definitions list"; one might notice that they are identical to the college answer.

Intra-abdominal Hypertension (IAH)

A sustained or repeated pathological elevation in IAP ≥ 12 mmHg

Abdominal Compartment Syndrome (ACS)

A sustained IAP> 20 mmHg (with or without an APP < 60 mmHg) that is associated with new organ dysfunction/failure

Abdominal Perfusion Pressure (APP)


Measurement of intra-abdominal pressure

  • Empty the bladder
  • Clamp IDC
  • Attach noncompressible tubing and transducer
  • Inject 20ml of fluid into the bladder
  • Wait for the detrusor to relax (60 seconds)
  • Zero the transducer to atmosphere, at mid-axillary line and at the level of the iliac crest
  • Measure the pressure at end-expiration
  • The measurement is valid under the following conditions:
    • Patient is supine
    • Muscle contraction is eliminated (eg. NMJ blockers)

List the adverse cardiorespiratory effects of an increase in IAP in a mechanically ventilated patient and outline the physiological mechanisms that account for these effects.

The college demands we focus on the cardiorespiratory consequences.


  • Decreased respiratory compliance, increased peak airway pressures- due to the pressure of the abdominal contents on the diaphragm
    • Atelectasis
    • Risk of pneumonia
    • Increased intrathoracic pressure due to the compensatory reliance on higher PEEP
  • Decreased preload, thus hypotension
  • Increased afterload, thus increased LV workload


Oh's Intensive Care manual: Chapter   45   (pp. 520) Abdominal  surgical  catastrophes by Stephen  J  Streat

Malbrain, Manu LNG, et al. "Results from the international conference of experts on intra-abdominal hypertension and abdominal compartment syndrome. I. Definitions." Intensive care medicine 32.11 (2006): 1722-1732.

Cheatham, Michael L., et al. "Abdominal perfusion pressure: a superior parameter in the assessment of intra-abdominal hypertension." Journal of Trauma-Injury, Infection, and Critical Care 49.4 (2000): 621-627.

Bailey, Jeffrey, and Marc J. Shapiro. "Abdominal compartment syndrome."Critical Care 4.1 (2000): 23.

Cheatham, Michael Lee. "Abdominal compartment syndrome." Current opinion in critical care 15.2 (2009): 154-162.

Maerz, Linda, and Lewis J. Kaplan. "Abdominal compartment syndrome."Critical care medicine 36.4 (2008): S212-S215.

Saggi, Bob H., et al. "Abdominal compartment syndrome." Journal of Trauma-Injury, Infection, and Critical Care 45.3 (1998): 597-609.