3 Special Types of Compartment Syndrome

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Compartment syndrome is a condition that can occur when the compartmental pressure within the muscles and tissues of the body becomes too high. This increased pressure can cause pain, swelling, and damage to the nerves and blood vessels. If untreated, compartment syndrome can lead to severe complications, such as muscle death, nerve damage, and even amputation.

It often occurs in the arms or legs following an injury or trauma to the area. However, it can also occur in other body parts, such as the abdomen, chest, or head.

compartment syndrome

There are two types: acute and chronic syndrome. An acute compartment is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. The chronic compartment is a less severe form of the condition that develops over time and typically does not require emergency treatment.

Causes of Compartment Syndrome

Several factors can contribute to the development of the syndrome. These include:

- Trauma or injury to the affected area

- Fractures

- Burns

- Crush injuries

- Severe muscle contractions (such as those that occur during a seizure)

- Prolonged immobilization (such as being in a cast)

- Surgery

Risk Factors for Compartment Syndrome

Certain factors can increase your risk of developing the syndrome. These include:

- Age: Children and older adults are more likely to develop compartment syndrome than other age groups.

- Obesity: Being overweight or obese can increase your risk of developing compartment syndrome.

- Diabetes: People with diabetes are at an increased risk for developing compartment syndrome.

- Peripheral artery disease: People with peripheral artery disease are at an increased risk for developing the syndrome.

compartment syndrome

Types of Compartment Syndrome

There are a few types:

  • Acute Compartment Syndrome: Acute syndrome is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. This compartment syndrome typically occurs within 6 hours of the initial injury or trauma. If left untreated, the acute syndrome can lead to severe complications, such as muscle death, nerve damage, and even amputation.
  • Chronic Compartment Syndrome: Chronic syndrome is a less severe form of the condition that develops over time and typically does not require emergency treatment. This syndrome can occur due to repetitive injury or trauma to the affected area. It is also more common in people who have diabetes or peripheral artery disease.
  • Exertional Compartment Syndrome: Exertional syndrome is a condition that occurs when the pressure within the muscles and tissues of the affected area (usually the leg) becomes too high during physical activity. This increased pressure can cause pain, swelling, and damage to the nerves and blood vessels. If left untreated, exertional compartment syndrome can lead to severe complications, such as muscle death, nerve damage, and even amputation.

Compartment Syndrome Symptoms

Symptoms can vary depending on the type of condition. However, common symptoms include:

- Pain: The pain associated with it is typically a deep ache that worsens when the affected area is moved or stretched.

- Tingling or numbness: It can cause tingling or numbness in the affected area.

- Weakness: It can cause weakness in the affected area.

- Pale or clammy skin: It can cause the skin in the affected area to become pale or clammy.

- Paralysis: In severe cases, the syndrome can cause paralysis in the affected area.

Compartment Syndrome Treatment

The treatment typically involves a combination of rest, ice, and elevation. Surgery may also be necessary to relieve the pressure in the affected area.

  • Rest, Ice, and Elevation

The first line of treatment for the syndrome is typically rest, ice, and elevation, meaning a person should avoid any activity that causes pain or aggravates the condition. Ice should be applied to the affected area for 20 minutes, several times a day. Elevating the affected limb above heart level will help reduce swelling.

  • Surgery

Surgery may be necessary if conservative measures fail to relieve the pressure in the affected area. The type of surgery will depend on the location and severity of the condition. In most cases, a surgeon will make an incision in the affected area to release the pressure. This procedure is typically performed as an outpatient procedure, meaning a person will not have to stay in the hospital overnight.

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