In contrast with other pediatric diseases with high risk, the problem of IAH in newborns with congenital abdominal wall defects and in children with a need for large-for-size organ transplants appears to become more and more well known. Nevertheless, the results of the present survey seem to emphasize the impression that there is still a considerable lack of knowledge, awareness, and goal-oriented therapy.
So far, only two study groups conducted surveys that focused on pediatric health care providers. During two pediatric congresses (2006 and 2007), Ejike et al. handed out 1,107 questionnaires and received 517 replies (return rate 46.7%) [20
]. In contrast to our survey, not only pediatric intensivists (30.2%), but also general pediatricians (3.9%) and pediatric nurses (59.8%) participated. Within the context of another congress in 2010, the same study group repeated this survey among pediatric nurses and compared the results of both surveys with each other (return rate 62.7% (433/691); [21
In 2001, Kimball et al. sent a survey to 4,538 members of the Society of Critical Care Medicine with a response rate of 35.7% [22
]. Of the 1,622 respondents, 57 physicians stated that they worked in a PICU (3.5%), and 294 had primary training in pediatrics (18.1%).
Thus, to the best of our knowledge, the present study is the first to reflect the results of a nationwide survey conducted among pediatric intensivists without bias that is a result of a dependency on different professional groups and congress participants or membership in certain societies.
Awareness and incidence of IAH and ACS
Pediatricians seem to have the impression that IAH occurs more in younger patients. In accordance to our results, Akhobadze et al. found IAH in 18.1% of neonatal cases [23
]. For the rest, the incidence of ACS in children is estimated to be 0.6% to 9.8% [19
]. The best possible explanation for the varying risk could be the different anatomical and physiological circumstances.
Risk factors for IAH and ACS
Each intensivist should also know rare risk factors in order to be able to adequately monitor and medicate at-risk patients (Figures and ). Risk factors vary substantially depending on the age of pediatric patients; therefore, they may be divided into congenital and acquired causes as well as into neonatal and pediatric origins. While among neonates, abdominal wall defects and necrotizing enterocolitis appear to play a major role; the at-risk profile moves in the direction of trauma among older children.
The survey of Kimball et al. [22
] revealed similar underlying disease patterns. They found 'third spacing' and large volume resuscitation, as well as trauma accompanied by bleeding, to be the most important risk factors. Accordingly, Beck et al. argued that children develop IAH more often on the basis of ischemia-reperfusion states [24
]. Consistent with the results of a study performed by Ejike et al. [25
], our results exhibit a trend towards secondary ACS (Tables and (B.3); Figure ). Further risk factors are described in Figures and ; however, they are not complete.
Definition and diagnosis of IAH and ACS
Contrary to current definitions, half of the respondents stated that IAH and ACS would be diagnosed using clinical criteria alone. This was despite the fact that neither clinical exam nor abdominal perimeter has proven to be accurate parameters and delivers a sensitivity of no more than 50% [27
]. In the study by Kimball et al., 20% of respondents relied solely on the clinical picture [22
], and only 7.2% based the diagnosis of IAH on IAP measurement. This result is similar to the one found in our study. In the investigation of Newcombe et al., the percentage of understanding the correct definition of ACS even dropped when compared with the pre-study of Ejike et al. [21
]. At that time, the definition of ACS had been mistaken for that of IAH by 53.2% of their participants [20
]. All of these results imply that there is still 'confusion among pediatric health care providers' [20
]. They further imply that patients are not being diagnosed correctly and, therefore, are receiving inadequate treatment. Deeming critically ill patients at risk of developing IAH without measuring IAP seems highly dangerous.
Measurement of IAP
In fact, only 20% of our respondents regularly measure IAP compared with 24.2% in the investigation of Ejike et al. [20
]. According to Steinau et al. [31
], who recommended four to six hourly control measurements in cases of impending IAH in children, IAP is measured at least six hourly by about 50% of participants claiming to perform measurements. Among them, 17% stated that they measure it continuously. Unfortunately, respondents did not note which kind of technique they used. Commercially available continuous pressure measurement systems [32
] appear to display rather an exception than the rule in children.
Regardless of whether measurements are performed continuously or intermittently, indirect methods via the bladder (gold standard) [11
] and the stomach are most often used in children. This is in accordance with former ACS surveys [20
]. All measuring techniques mentioned (B.7 of Table ) have been examined for their ability to reflect the IAP in children [12
Therapeutical strategies concerning the management of IAH/ACS patients
In cases of imminent or existent IAH, several medical, interventional, and surgical therapy options are available (Table ). Nonetheless, in the absence of appropriate standards, there seems to be great insecurity regarding which kind of therapy is necessary in which diagnostic constellations.
In cases of persisting or even progressing IAH, all available therapy options should be applied courageously, in an escalating way, without wasting any time. Surprisingly, minimal-invasive decompressive methods, such as peritoneal drainage and paracentesis, seemed to play a minor role and were named in no more than 15% of answers. This was the case although several authors proclaimed their beneficial merits in lowering IAH and avoiding the need for surgical decompression [41
The readiness to decompress surgically is strongly dependent on the age of the patient and the presence of organ dysfunction. When younger children are affected and in cases of ongoing organ failure, intensivists appear to be willing to use invasive therapy forms earlier. This is in accordance with the findings made by Kimball et al. [22
]. When one considers their results, pediatric intensivists seem to have become more familiar with invasive rescue therapies over the last decade. This might be a sign of a deeper comprehension of the detrimental pathophysiological effects of IAH. In comparison with adults, however, invasive procedures are the absolute exception and applied much less. Whether this can be traced back to a special reluctance among pediatricians and pediatric surgeons cannot be determined using this survey. Further, it cannot be determined whether the majority of underlying pediatric illnesses can be treated successfully in an either non-invasive or minimally invasive way. Nevertheless, it provides arguments for the idea that an aggressive therapy, insofar indicated, can improve the prognosis.
Prognosis of children suffering from ACS
Mortality from ACS accounts for 22% to 60% in children [23
]. When left untreated, brisk, progressing multi-organ failure (MOF) is said to be an essential underlying reason. Ejike et al. [25
] reported a mortality rate of 50% among critically ill children suffering from primary ACS, 80% of whom had undergone a DL. In contrast, mortality in a secondary ACS group was 67%, 11% of which had undergone decompression. They concluded that mortality among primary ACS patients might be lower because laparotomy is performed earlier, not for the sake of IAH but rather for the sake of the underlying intra-abdominal disorder. Indirectly, this might imply that timely decompression is able to lower morbidity and mortality. Accordingly, the stated survival rate in the present study was lower among surgically treated children when compared with non-invasively treated patients. However, there might be a limited timeframe in which decompression really is able to improve the outcome. If an inflammatory 'point-of-no-return' is surpassed and MOF takes on a life of its own, even decompression is no longer able to prevent death anymore, as shown by De Waele et al. [49
The goal of future research must be to develop a standardized diagnostic as well as a therapy algorithm also for children. An initial algorithm was introduced by Steinau et al. [31
]; however, it does not yet contain the IAP limits adapted for children that were suggested by Ejike et al. [19
]. That these limits reflect the experience of pediatricians practicing in German hospitals is also shown in the results of our survey. Almost half of all respondents saw an IAP of 10 mmHg as a critical pressure limit for children, which is clearly below the limits for adults defined by the WSACS [18
]. That pediatric IAP thresholds must be substantially lower than those used in adults is pathophysiologically explainable by the fact that blood pressures in children and especially in neonates are vastly lower than those in adults. Therefore, also a mild increase in IAP is able to substantially impair local as well as systemic circulation and organ perfusion. Based on the definitions and recommendations published by Ejike et al. [19
], the authors therefore suggest a new scale division concerning different grades of ACS in children (Table ).
Since it has been shown that indicators as well as risk factors, illnesses, and critical abdominal pressure appear to vary considerably depending on pediatric patient age, an algorithm adapted for each age class must be developed. Further, since our results have shown that the level of skepticism concerning methods for measuring IAP continues to be high in spite of the positive experiences in neonatal and transplant surgery, their effectiveness and harmlessness must be supported by evidence. Only then can it be hoped that the acceptance of diagnostic and therapeutical standards increases and that they are implemented in the treatment of critically ill children.
The goal of all these efforts must be to reduce morbidity and mortality from IAH and ACS significantly by applying the appropriate algorithms. Since the introduction of such standards in the treatment of adults, the indication of ACS could apparently be drastically reduced through an early and courageous therapy for pending or advanced IAH [17
Limitations of this survey
Surveys are known to have limitations and represent personal experience rather than objective data. The goal of our survey was to be purely descriptive. Therefore, no absolute conclusion may be drawn using this manuscript alone. That answers were given by interviewees familiar with this particular topic and interested in the resolution of certain unsolved problems might result in a bias towards putative over-recognition.
Some questionnaires were only partially completed, decreasing the strength of the whole investigation. Nonetheless, the omission of certain items might be interpreted as an honest expression of a lack of knowledge. Besides, findings using even few participants who are more familiar with IAH/ACS should be presented in order to offer clinical examples till more evidence-based data are available.
However, data from this survey display a significant lack of consensus and certainty among pediatric intensivists. This observation might help guide future studies with a multicenter prospective randomized approach.