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Peritonitis is an inflammation of the peritoneum tissue lining the inner wall of the abdomen.

Peritonitis is usually caused by infection from bacteria or fungal infection.

Peritonitis can rapidly spread into the blood ( sepsis) and to other organs. This can cause organ failure and death.

Prompt treatment is important with peritonitis, so symptoms need prompt investigation.

Peritonitis symptoms

Peritonitis symptoms usually start with lost appetite, nausea and a dull stomach ache.

This quickly turns into persistent, severe abdominal pain. The pain gets worse when the person moves.

Other signs and symptoms related to peritonitis may include:

  • Abdominal tenderness or distention
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Extreme thirst
  • Not passing any urine, or passing significantly less urine than usual
  • Difficulty passing gas or having a bowel movement
  • Vomiting

Peritonitis causes

There are two main types of peritonitis:

Primary spontaneous peritonitis is an infection that develops in the peritoneum.

Secondary peritonitis usually develops when an injury or infection in the abdominal cavity allows infectious organisms into the peritoneum, such as a burst appendix.

Both types can be life-threatening.

Peritonitis diagnosis

A doctor will begin to diagnose peritonitis based on a person's symptoms and a physical examination.

Tests may be arranged, including:

  • Blood and urine tests
  • Imaging scans, such as X-rays or CT scans
  • Exploratory surgery
  • Paracentesis, fluid is taken from the abdominal cavity and checked for infection.

Peritonitis treatments

A person with peritonitis will need to be admitted to a hospital and closely monitored.

First line treatments are likely to be antibiotics through an IV drip or antifungal medication.

Depending on how the infection is affecting the body, IV fluids, drugs to maintain blood pressure, and nutritional support may be needed.

An operation may be needed to remove infected tissue if the infection was caused by appendicitis, a perforated stomach ulcer, or diverticulitis.

Many cases of peritonitis cannot be prevented, but additional risk reduction measures may be taken for those due to complications of peritoneal dialysis.

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on November 23, 2015

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