WHEN presented with a case of acute colic, it may be difficult to determine whether immediate surgical intervention is required (for example, to correct an intestinal strangulation), or whether a medical condition, such as acute grass sickness, is present. Clearly, a decision must be made quickly as any delay may have a serious detrimental effect on the outcome. The analysis of peritoneal fluid has been used for many years in the investigation of diseases of the abdominal cavity and, in many acute colic patients, can be helpful in deciding whether an animal has a surgical or medical problem. However, it is important that any findings are considered in the context of the history, clinical examination and results of other ancillary diagnostic procedures. It is vital that other indicators for surgery (eg, unrelenting pain, small intestinal distension, deteriorating cardiovascular function) are appreciated, as these signs often become apparent before changes in the peritoneal fluid are observed. In such cases, there is no need to wait for the results of peritoneal fluid analysis and surgery should be undertaken as a matter of urgency. This article describes how to collect and analyse peritoneal fluid, and highlights some of the changes which may be seen in specific conditions.
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