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Abdominal Rigidity

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Inflammation of the sac that lines the abdominal cavity (peritoneum)

Alternative Names 
abdominal wall muscle spasm, abdominal guarding

Abdominal rigidity describes stiffness of the abdominal wall.

What is going on in the body? 
Abdominal rigidity is generally due to:
  • a spasm of the abdominal wall muscles. This may occur if the muscles are injured.
  • an inflammation inside the abdomen. This may be the body's way of protecting the contents of the abdomen.
Abdominal rigidity may also be a sign of serious disease inside the abdomen.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition? 
Abdominal rigidity itself is considered a sign of disease. Other findings that commonly exist along with rigidity include: Additional findings depend on the cause of abdominal rigidity.

What are the causes and risks of the condition? 
Rigidity may represent a local problem in the muscles or a deeper problem inside the abdomen. Causes of abdominal rigidity include: What can be done to prevent the condition? 
Most of the time, this condition cannot be prevented. Some cases may be prevented by:
  • avoiding overuse of the abdominal muscles
  • not drinking alcohol or at least avoiding alcohol dependence, which often causes inflammation of the pancreas
How is the condition diagnosed? 
A doctor diagnoses this condition based upon:
  • a person's medical history
  • findings of a physical examination
Further tests may be done to determine the cause of the abdominal rigidity, including:
  • urine tests
  • blood tests
  • special X-rays
What are the long-term effects of the condition? 
Abdominal rigidity is often a very worrisome sign. It can indicate the presence of a life-threatening infection. If this is the case, death may occur if prompt treatment fails to work.

What are the risks to others? 
This condition is generally not contagious.

What are the treatments for the condition? 
Treatment depends on the underlying cause. If it is a muscle injury, rest and analgesias are used. Other causes require more extensive treatment, such as:
  • intravenous fluids
  • antibiotics and other drugs
  • surgery
What are the side effects of the treatments? 
All medications may cause side effects, including:
  • allergic reactions
  • stomach upset
Other side effects vary depending on the medications used.

When surgery is done, there is a risk of:
  • bleeding
  • infection
  • death
What happens after treatment for the condition? 
Treatment usually stops when the person recovers and the rigidity goes away. The condition may be permanently cured, as it is when the appendix is removed with an appendicectomy.

With more serious cases, death may occur if treatment is unsuccessful.

How is the condition monitored? 
The need for monitoring depends on the underlying cause of the problem. Symptoms are followed and physical examinations may be done. Urine tests, blood tests, and X-ray tests may be needed to monitor the condition, as well.

Author: Adam Brochert, MD
Reviewer: eknohow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 12/06/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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