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Rosenberg | Kirby | Cahill | Stankowitz & Richardson

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What is compartment syndrome?

Your organs and muscles are in groups called compartments. Each compartment includes webs of connective tissue to form the walls. After an accident, fluid or blood may accumulate in different compartments. According to WebMD, the walls known as fascia do not easily expand.

As the compartment fills with blood and fluid, the tissues become damaged and you could lose bodily function or face death because of it. Your abdomen, arms and legs are most likely to develop compartment syndrome.

What are the symptoms of compartment syndrome?

If you have compartment syndrome, the symptoms may develop over a few hours following your accident. You may experience a deep and persistent ache in your limbs. Often, patients complain that the injury does not match the severity of the pain. You may notice some swelling, bruising or tightness in your arms and legs, along with numbness and pins and needles.

Abdominal compartment syndrome, on the other hand, often occurs to patients on life support. They may have a distended abdomen, low urine output or a pain response to pressure.

How can doctors diagnose compartment syndrome?

Sometimes, a doctor can diagnose compartment syndrome by observing the patient and taking note of the symptoms. If your doctor cannot tell through a physical exam, he or she will insert a needle into the affected area. The needle attaches to a pressure monitor.

Physicians may also use imaging tests to check for compartment syndrome. If your doctor suspects abdominal compartment syndrome, pressure measurement is the only way to diagnose it.

Doctors will remove all casts, splints or dressings from the affected area if diagnosed with compartment syndrome. Sometimes, you may require a surgeon to make incisions in the fascia to release the pressure.