Peritoneal Lavage

Peritoneal lavage is a test used to determine the presence or absence of internal bleeding within the abdomen. Injury to the abdomen can result from blunt forces (i.e. motor vehicle accidents) and from penetrating objects (knife wounds and bullets). Determining the significance of an internal injury can often be based on the results from peritoneal lavage.

This test is performed by introducing a long, flexible plastic tube into the abdomen. A small incision is made adjacent to the "belly button" using a local anesthetic. The tube is advanced to a certain depth into the abdomen so that fluid can be aspirated with a syringe. The presence of blood in the aspirate confirms significant injury that will require surgery. If the aspirate is free of blood, fluid (salt water solution) will be delivered through the tube into the abdominal cavity. It will then be allowed to flow back out for microscopic analysis. If blood is present in the returned fluid (a critical amount of red blood cells), surgery will be indicated. Peritoneal lavage is an accurate indicator of significant internal injury. This test is usually performed by the General Surgeon.

Peritoneal lavage carries a small risk of bowel perforation during the procedure, with the additional risk of peritonitis (a bacterial infection within the abdomen). In the majority of cases, the risks are significantly outweighed by the benefit of this diagnostic procedure.


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