With the development of damage-control techniques and the understanding of abdominal compartment syndrome, the open abdomen has become more commonplace. Three scenarios commonly leading to an open abdomen are: peritonitis, expansion of the bowel during laparotomy, and increased intra-abdominal pressure in patients with severe abdominal compartment syndrome. Many trauma patients with intra-abdominal bleeding require damage-control surgery. This involves rapid assessment of the injuries and control of bleeding by direct suture/ligation, or gauze packing. The abdomen may be left open as part of the damage-control surgery, or bowel edema and/or gauze packing may simply preclude full fascial closure in these patients. The open abdomen requires temporary closure. If the abdomen is not closed in the early postoperative period, the combination of adhesions and fascial retraction frequently make primary fascial closure impossible, and a planned ventral hernia is often required. NPWT involves suction over a large polyurethane sponge under an occlusive dressing in the wound, which provides constant medial traction of the abdominal fascia. The technique also allows the abdominal wall to move freely toward the midline without interference from adhesions between bowels and the abdominal wall. NPWT also improves/facilitates drainage, which reduces the amount of peritoneal fluid and bacteria. Higher closure rates of the abdomen have been reported with NWPT than with other wound management techniques [6
]. However, the method has occasionally been associated with increased development of intestinal fistulae and enteroatmospheric fistulae [9
]. It has been suggested that the suction force of the vacuum induces an ischemic response in the underlying tissue that may promote development of fistulae.
There have been several reports over the years of excellent clinical results with NPWT [6
]. However, in November 2009, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a preliminary warning in view of reports of rare but serious complications associated with use of NPWT. In cardiac surgery, lethal complications following NPWT for postoperative deep sternal wound infection include right ventricle rupture and bypass graft rupture, with an incidence of 4 to 7% among patients treated for with NPWT deep sternal wound infection [21
]. We have previously identified the cause of heart rupture in pigs using magnetic resonance imaging [21
]. The heart was shown to be drawn up toward the thoracic wall, with the right ventricle bulging into the space between the sternal edges and the sharp edges of the sternum protruding into the anterior surface of the heart [24
]. Placing multiple layers of paraffin gauze over the anterior portion of the heart did not prevent deformation of the heart. However, these events could be prevented by inserting a rigid plastic disc between the anterior part of the heart and the inside of the thoracic wall [24
]. When using NPWT for treatment of the open abdomen, the mechanism may be similar, with herniation of the underlying tissue, i.e. bulging of the small intestines into the space between the wound edges, which might partially explain the induction of ischemia in the underlying intestinal wall during NPWT of the open abdomen [14
]. Macroscopic changes in the small intestines lying close to the NPWT dressing in laparotomy wounds over 24 and 48 hours were recently studied in 70 kg pigs [25
]. Half of the animals were treated with a protective thin plastic disc over the intestines, while the other halves were treated with conventional NPWT for open abdomen. Slight petechial bleeding was seen in the small intestinal loops lying close to the dressing in both groups [25
]. The area of petechial bleeding was significantly larger after 24 hours, but especially after 48 hours, in the conventional NPWT group. In contrast, hardly any petechial bleeding was seen in the group treated with a protective disc over the intestines [25
]. The area of petechial bleeding may indicate signs of ischemia.
We have previously shown that NPWT induces an increase in the blood flow of the peristernal soft tissue (i.e. skeletal muscular and subcutaneous tissue), and also that the change is related to local effects, since the blood flow 4.5 cm from the wound edge was not affected by the negative pressure [26
]. The blood flow increased with increasing subatmospheric pressure in both subcutaneous and skeletal muscular tissue. When the area under the flow-distance curve was analyzed, covering a distance of 0.5 to 4.5 cm from the wound edge, a maximal net increase in the blood flow in muscular tissue was observed at pressures of -75 and -100 mmHg,[26
]. A difference was observed in the profiles of the blood flow responses in the subcutaneous and the muscular tissue. The distance from the wound edge to the point at which the blood flow increased was shorter in muscular tissue than in subcutaneous tissue. This may indicate that pressure is transduced differently in soft, dense tissue, and that a less dense tissue collapses more easily when subjected to pressure. A zone of relative hypoperfusion was observed in the immediate proximity of the wound edge [26
]. This zone was larger at high negative pressures, and was especially prominent in subcutaneous tissue. The size of the hypoperfused zone depended on the pressure applied, and expanded with increasing negative pressure. The changes in the peristernal wound blood flow caused by NPWT vary with the distance from the wound edge. A few centimeters away from the wound edge, the blood flow increased when subatmospheric pressure was applied. Conversely, in the immediate proximity of the wound, the negative pressure induced relative hypoperfusion [26
]. These physiological events may also take place in the intestinal wall and in the omentum during exposure to negative pressures, leading to an ischemic zone in the intestinal wall that is in close contact with the NPWT dressing. This in turn could lead to the development of intestinal fistulae.
The primary goals of NPWT wound management include avoidance of mechanical contamination of the abdominal viscera, active removal of exudates, and estimation of third space fluid loss. The present study compared conventional NPWT with NPWT using a protective disc, placed between the intestines and the vacuum source. In previous studies we have shown that conventional NPWT induces ischemia in the small intestines close to the dressing, and close to the anterior abdominal wall. We have also shown that microvascular blood flow in the small intestines can be restored by placing a protective disc between the intestines and the vacuum source [14
]. In the present study we show that NPWT with a protective disc drains the abdomen more effectively than conventional NPWT during exposure to negative pressures of -50, -70, and -120 mmHg. The most prominent difference was seen at -50 mmHg. It would be clinically advantageous to treat these patients at low negative pressures, where no ischemic response is seen, but good drainage of the abdomen is still achieved. A possible explanation of the differences between fluid evacuation with conventional NPWT and NPWT with a disc may be the more even pressure transduction at the anterior abdominal wall using NPWT with a disc compared with conventional NPWT, as shown in Figure . Pressure transduction did not differ between conventional NPWT and NPWT with a disc in the space between the wound edges directly beneath the dressing, but a difference was observed when comparing pressure transduction at the anterior abdominal wall, where more even pressure transduction was observed with NPWT with the disc, and essentially no pressure transduction was observed with conventional NPWT.