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Compartment syndrome: pathophysiology, clinical presentations, treatment, and prevention in human and veterinary medicine


  • Lindsey K. Nielsen DVM,

  • Megan Whelan DVM, DACVECC

  • The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to

Dr. Megan Whelan, Angell Animal Medical Center, 350 South Huntington Ave, Boston, MA 02130, USA.




To review the human and veterinary literature pertaining to all forms of compartment syndrome (CS).

Data Sources

Data sources included scientific reviews and original research publications from the human and veterinary literature.

Human Data Synthesis

While CS affecting the extremities has been recognized in people for decades, other forms of CS in the abdominal and thoracic cavities are recently gaining more attention. The role of CS in critically ill people is a rapidly growing area of interest. More research on prevention and treatment of CS is being conducted in people because some studies have found mortality rates as high as 80% for those suffering from these conditions.

Veterinary Data Synthesis

While a significant amount of experimental studies of CS have been performed on small animals, there is a marked lack of primary veterinary studies. The majority of the veterinary literature includes case reports and series, and many of these studies were published over a decade ago. However, the increased recognition of CS in people has sparked an interest in veterinary critical care medicine and this has been demonstrated by the recent increased evaluation of compartment pressures in veterinary patients.


CS is a complex clinical condition where increased pressure within a compartment can cause significant adverse effects within the compartment as well as throughout the body. Systemic inflammatory responses and local ischemia-reperfusion elements can contribute to the detrimental effects seen in CS. This cascade of events results in increased mortality rates and contributes to the development of CS elsewhere. A better understanding of CS will help veterinarians improve patient care and outcome. Future studies on incidence, prevention, and treatment of CSs in the critical care patient are needed in veterinary medicine.