Healthy Living

What is Compartment Syndrome?

What is Compartment Syndrome?

Compartment syndrome refers to the excessive buildup of pressure within the muscle compartments of the body. This will affect the functioning of the nerves and lead to cell death based on the intensity and duration of the pressure built up. Bleeding and inflammation after an injury usually leads to an increased pressure in compartments. Very high pressure within the body may affect the flow of blood to the muscles. Compartmental syndrome often requires immediate medical attention to prevent further injury and complications. Legs, arms, and abdomen are the most commonly affected parts due to this syndrome.

The common type of compartment syndrome is the acute type, which is most often caused by fracture of arm or leg. Bleeding and edema caused by the fracture lead to the increase in pressure within few hours or days. Treatment, like surgery and casting, may also lead to buildup of pressure.

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Some other common conditions that may lead to compartment syndrome include:

  • Tight bandaging over an injury
  • Burns
  • Surgery of blood vessels of arm or leg
  • Blood clot to arms or legs
  • Vigorous exercise
  • Prolonged compression of a limb
  • Taking anabolic steroids

The second type of compartment syndrome is the chronic form, which develops after few days or weeks of injury. It is also referred to as exertional compartment syndrome, as it is caused by regular, vigorous exercise. It mostly affects thighs, buttocks and lower leg.

Abdominal compartment syndrome is triggered by severe injury, surgery, or critical diseases and can result from:

  • Trauma
  • Abdominal surgery
  • Burns
  • Infection of the blood
  • Abdominal bleeding

As the pressure increases considerably, blood flow to the abdomen may reduce and affect the functioning of liver, kidneys, and bowels leading to their damage.

Symptoms of acute compartment syndrome will be seen within few hours of injury or damage.

The most common symptoms of acute compartment syndrome are:

  • Persistent pain in the arm or leg
  • Numbness
  • Needle-prick pain in the legs and arms
  • Swelling, tightness and bruising

Chronic compartment syndrome is characterized by cramps in the affected muscle like that of thigh, lower leg or buttocks. It often goes away with adequate rest.

The symptoms of abdominal compartment syndrome include:

  • Distension of abdomen
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Reduced urine output
  • Low blood pressure

Any treatment focuses on reducing the pressure in the affected regions. If bandages or castings are causing the increased pressure, it must be removed to relieve the pressure on the region. Acute compartment syndrome may need surgery to relax the pressure within the compartment. These treatment options are usually combined with oxygen supply through nose or mouth, intravenous introduction of fluids, and pain medications.

In chronic compartment syndrome, the activity that caused the condition is stopped to relieve the unwanted pressure. Physical therapy is also recommended to reduce the pressure. In abdominal compartment syndrome, mechanical ventilation, drugs to reduce pressure, and kidney replacement therapies are suggested. Pressure may also be reduced by surgery.