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The Potential Spaces-Mapping the Peritoneal Cavity

The peritoneum is a thin serous membrane that lines the abdominal wall (the parietal peritoneum), and also covers the organs (visceral peritoneum). A thin film of fluid (about 50 to 100 mL) separates these two layers of the peritoneum from each other. 

Peritoneal ligaments are double layers or folds of the peritoneum that support structures within the cavity formed by the peritoneum; Omentum and mesentery are examples of ‘named peritoneal ligaments’. Most abdominal ligaments arise from the ventral or dorsal mesentery. Peritoneal spaces are resultant separate compartments formed within the peritoneal cavity. Let us dive deeper into this.

Why is this significant?

Since the space enclosed by the peritoneum is only a potential space, normal peritoneal folds, ligaments, and thus the spaces are not identifiable at imaging. They become more conspicuous only when distended or involved by pathological processes. The peritoneal ligaments, mesenteries, and omenta may either serve as barriers for pathological processes or may facilitate the spread of disease across them.

  • Identifying etiology – Infective/Inflammatory/Neoplastic/Traumatic: For eg.-Slow fluid accumulation due to a chronic underlying systemic disease may be localized to one or few spaces. The rapid build-up of fluid may suggest an acute or aggressive disease process like cases of trauma or acute pancreatitis. In such conditions, the accumulating fluid, debris, etc may not respect the natural boundaries of the peritoneal spaces and would spill into multiple spaces.
  • Localizing pathology to guide the treating clinician or surgeon. For eg: for guiding placement of a drain, deciding surgical approach, etc.
  • Establishing the extent of peritoneal diseases, ascites, intraperitoneal metastases, collections.
  • Establishing prognosis and anticipating route of spread of disease process.
  • Comparison and Follow-up.

The Primary Divider – Transverse Mesocolon

The transverse mesocolon divides the peritoneum into the supramesocolic and inframesocolic spaces.

Coronal view of peritoneal compartments illustration
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