The polycompartment syndrome: a concise state-of-the-art review

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Manu L.N.G. Malbrain, Derek J. Roberts, Michael Sugrue, Bart L. De Keulenaer, Rao Ivatury, Paolo Pelosi, Frederik Verbrugge, Robert Wise, Wilfried Mullens


A compartment syndrome is defined as an increase in the compartmental pressure to such an extent that the viability of the tissues and organs within the compartment are threatened. The term describes a syndrome and not a disease, and as such there are many diseases and underlying pathophysiological processes that may lead to such a scenario. The aim of this review is to give a state-of-the-art overview on the current knowledge on different compartment syndromes and how they may interact. Suggested definitions are included. There are four major compartments in the human body: the head, chest, abdomen, and the extremities. Initially, the term multicompartment syndrome was suggested when more than one compartment was affected. But this led to confusion as the term multi- or multiple compartment syndromes is mostly used in relation to multiple limb trauma leading to compartment syndrome requiring fasciotomy. Only recently was the term ‘polycompartment syndrome’ coined to describe a condition where two or more anatomical compartments have elevated pressures. When more than one compartment is affected, an exponential detrimental effect on end-organ function to both immediate and distant organs can occur. Within each compartment, the disease leading towards a compartment syndrome can be primary or secondary. The compliance of each compartment is the key to determining the transmission of a given compartmental pressure from one compartment to another. The intra-abdominal pressure helps to explain the severe pathophysiological condition occurring in patients with cardiorenal, hepatopulmonary and hepatorenal syndromes. Initial treatment of a compartment syndrome should be focused on the primary compartment and is based on three principles: lowering of compartmental pressure, supporting organ perfusion, and optimisation and prevention of specific adverse events. Clinicians need to be aware of the existence of the polycompartment syndrome and the interactions of increased compartmental pressures between compartments.

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