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Peritonitis

 

Definition

Peritonitis is an inflammation (irritation) of the peritoneum, the tissue that lines the wall of the abdomen and covers the abdominal organs.

Alternative Names

Acute abdomen

Causes

A collection of pus in the abdomen, called an intra-abdominal abscess, may cause peritonitis.

See the specific types of peritonitis:

Symptoms

Additional symptoms that may be associated with this disease include:

  • Cloudy dialysis fluid (if undergoing peritoneal dialysis)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shaking chills
  • Signs of shock
Signs and tests

The doctor will perform a physical exam. The abdomen is usually tender, and may feel firm and "board-like." The patient may extensively "guard" the area, using protective movements such as curling up or refusing to allow the area to be touched.

Blood tests, x-rays, and CT scans may be ordered.

Support Groups

Expectations (prognosis)

With treatment, patients usually do well. Without treatment, the outcome is usually poor. However, in some cases, patients do poorly even with prompt and appropriate treatment.

Calling your health care provider

Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you have symptoms of peritonitis.

Complications

Peritonitis can be life threatening and may cause a number of different complications. Complications depend on the specific type of peritonitis.

Treatments

The cause must be identified and treated promptly. Treatment typically involves surgery and antibiotics.

Prevention

Prevention depends on the cause. See the specific types of peritonitis.

References

Turnage RH, Richardson KA, Li BD, McDonald JC. Abdominal Wall, Umbilicus, Peritoneum, Mesenteries, Omentum, and Retroperitoneum. In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 18th ed. St. Louis, Mo: WB Saunders; 2008:chap 43.


Review Date: 7/22/2008
Reviewed By: Shimul A. Shah, MD, Assistant Professor of Surgery, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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