Tension pneumoperitoneum

Last revised by Mostafa Elfeky on 3 Feb 2023

Tension pneumoperitoneum is a special and rare type of pneumoperitoneum, in which the free intra-abdominal peritoneal gas is under pressure.

The mechanism is thought to be a ball-valve effect allowing the one-way accumulation of gas. This results in:

  • elevation and splinting of the diaphragm reducing lung volumes

  • compression of intra-abdominal venous structures, e.g. inferior vena cava, resulting in reduced venous return and decreased cardiac output

Causes are essentially the same as those of a 'normal' pneumoperitoneum with iatrogenic causes e.g. mechanical ventilation, being over-represented.

The radiographic features are the same as a routine pneumoperitoneum except that gas volumes are vast and abdominal distension is present.

Just as in tension pneumothorax, prompt surgical intervention is required to prevent death. 

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