Retroperitoneal haemorrhage

Retroperitoneal haemorrhage can be a source of significant yet occult blood loss.

The clinical features are varied depending on the amount of hemorrhage present, rate of onset and ability of the surrounding structures to contain the hemostatic system. The classical features are:

  • acute abdominal and/or flank pain
  • hypotension
  • anaemia

However, presentation is often non-specific with a lack of cutaneous bruising or other localising signs that can mean a delay in presentation and diagnosis.

The radiographic features can be variable depending on the stage of the haematoma.

Abdominal radiographi is typically non-specific but may show:

  • obliteration of psoas muscle outline
  • displaced bowel loops
  • in case of an aortic aneurysm as the cause, there may be calcification of aortic aneurysm giving a clue towards the cause in the correct correct clinical context
  • spillage of haemorrhage into the peritoneal cavity can be picked up
  • a large haematoma in the retroperitoneum may be seen
  • may show indirect evidence of displacement of retroperitoneal structures
  • the presence of an abdominal aortic aneurysm with peri-aortic haemorrhage could favour a ruptured aortic aneurysm as the cause
  • retroperitoneal structures have a hazy margin with fluid tracking through the retroperitoneum
  • non-contrast
    • acute and subacute haematomas - heterogeneous high attenuation
    • chronic haematomas - low attenuation
  • contrast-enhanced CT (without dedicated angiography)
    • well-defined margin in case of a formed hematoma and absence of contrast enhancement

On angiography an active bleeding point or the breach in the wall of aneurysm (if its an underlying cause) may be identified.

On MRI a retroperitoneal haematoma has a variable appearance depending on the stage of the blood. It helps in better assessment as it can distinguish between blood and a neoplasm:

  • acute and subacute stages: hyperintense on T1- and T2-weighted images
  • chronic stage: hypointense is present on T1- and T2-weighted images

Management is based on the overall clinical context and vitals signs of the patient, the cause and stage of the haemorrhage.

Initial medical management involves:

  • correction of coagulation disorders
  • reversal of any anticlotting therapies (e.g. octaplex for warfarin)
  • intravenous fluid resuscitation
  • blood transfusion
  • admission to an appropriate level of care (e.g. HDU for significant bleeds)

Although no consensus guidelines exist for retroperitoneal haemorrhage, it is accepted that patients with small haematomas or without ongoing bleeding can be managed conservatively.

It was previously thought that spontaneous retroperitoneal haemorrhage is related to microvascular causes which cannot be treated endovascularly. However, endovascular treatments now have a proven role in management, including:

  • stent graft placement
  • arterial embolisation

Chronic haematomas can become infected and are evacuated by percutaneous drainage or surgery. It has a better prognosis compared to that of the acute type.

Inappropriate surgical evacuation can exacerbate haemorrhage by relieving haematoma induced tamponade. However, active retroperitoneal haemorrhage giving a large intra-abdominal haemoperitoneum can be fatal and can require emergency surgery.

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Article information

rID: 25594
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Hemorrhage into the retroperitoneum
  • Retroperitoneal hemorrhage
  • Haemorrhage into the retroperitoneum

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Cases and figures

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    Ruptured AAA
    Case 1: from aortic aneurysmal rupture
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    Case 2: from traumatic lumbar artery rupture
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    The arterial phas...
    Case 3: from rupture common iliac aneurysm
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    Case 4: from renal AML
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