Diseases & Conditions

Abdominal Guarding - Abdominal Rigidity


Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Abdominal rigidity describes stiffness of the wall of the abdomen.

What is going on in the body?

Abdominal rigidity is often caused by a spasm of the abdominal wall muscles after an injury. It may also be a sign that the person has swelling inside the abdominal cavity. Serious disease inside the abdomen can also cause abdominal rigidity.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

Rigidity may point to a local problem in the muscles. Or it may relate to a deeper problem inside the abdomen. These are causes of abdominal rigidity:

  • bleeding into the muscles of the abdominal wall
  • bowel or abdominal infection, such as diverticulitis or appendicitis
  • an inflammation of the pancreas
  • injury or strain to the muscles of the abdominal wall
  • peritonitis, or an inflamed lining of the abdomen

  • Symptoms & Signs

    What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?

    Abdominal rigidity itself is considered a sign of disease. Some other symptoms that often go along with it are as follows:

  • an abdomen that is tender to the touch
  • abdominal pain
  • constipation
  • fever
  • nausea and vomiting

  • Diagnosis & Tests

    How is the condition diagnosed?

    Diagnosis of abdominal rigidity begins with a medical history and physical exam. The doctor may order tests such as:

  • an abdominal CT scan or abdominal MRI
  • blood tests
  • an ultrasound
  • urine tests

  • Prevention & Expectations

    What can be done to prevent the condition?

    Most of the time, abdominal rigidity can't be prevented. A few cases may be prevented by avoiding alcohol abuse that leads to pancreatitis. Following sports safety guidelines for children, adolescents, and adults may reduce injuries to the abdomen.

    What are the long-term effects of the condition?

    One should be concerned about abdominal rigidity. It can point to 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?

    Abdominal rigidity is not catching.


    Treatment & Monitoring

    What are the treatments for the condition?

    Treatment depends on the underlying cause. If abdominal rigidity is due to a muscle injury, rest and pain medicines are used. Other causes need more extensive treatment, such as:

  • antibiotics
  • intravenous fluids
  • surgery
  • What are the side effects of the treatments?

    Medicines may cause allergic reactions and stomach upset. Surgery may cause bleeding, infection, or allergic reaction to anesthesia.

    What happens after treatment for the condition?

    Treatment often stops when the person recovers and the rigidity goes away. The condition may be cured for good, as it is when the appendix is removed with an appendectomy. In more serious cases, death may occur if treatment doesn't succeed.

    How is the condition monitored?

    The need for monitoring depends on the underlying cause of the problem. Symptoms are followed, and physical exams may be done. Urine tests, blood tests, and X-ray tests also may be needed to monitor the condition. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the doctor.


    Attribution

    Author:Adam Brochert, MD
    Date Written:
    Editor:Crist, Gayle P., MS, BA
    Edit Date:08/17/02
    Reviewer:Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed:08/22/01

    Sources

    Principles of Surgery, 1999, Schwartz et al.