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  • Definition

    Peritonitis is an inflammation or infection of the peritoneum. The peritoneum is a thin tissue lining that covers the inside of the abdominal cavity. It also covers the outside of the intestines and other abdominal organs.
    There are several types:
    • Primary
    • Secondary
    • Peritoneal dialysis-related
    Peritonitis is a serious condition. It requires immediate treatment. If not promptly treated, it can be fatal.
  • Causes

    • Primary peritonitis—Occurs when there is a buildup of fluid in the abdomen. This is called ascites . It is caused by health conditions, such as cirrhosis (chronic liver disease).
    • Secondary peritonitis—Caused by bacteria that enter the abdominal cavity. Can be due to an injury or a condition, such as a ruptured appendix.
    • Dialysis-related peritonitis—Caused by bacteria that enter the peritoneal cavity during or after peritoneal dialysis (a treatment for kidney disease).
    Secondary Peritonitis
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  • Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase your chance of peritonitis include:
  • Symptoms

    Peritonitis may cause:
    • Severe pain or tenderness in the abdomen
    • Pain in the abdomen that is worse with motion
    • Bloating of the abdomen
    • Constipation
    • Fever
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Weakness or lightheadedness
    • Shortness of breath
    • Rapid pulse or breathing rate
    • Dehydration—signs include dry skin and lips, decreased urine production
  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include:
  • Treatment

    Treatment depends on the cause. It may include:
    • Surgery to repair openings in the skin surface or to remove damaged tissue
    • Antibiotics to treat infection
    • Replacement of fluids
  • Prevention

    There are no current guidelines to prevent peritonitis.

    American Gastroenterological Association

    The American College of Gastroenterology


    Canadian Association of Gastroenterology

    Health Canada


    Bacterial peritonitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated July 1, 2014. Accessed August 26, 2014.

    Feldman M, et al. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 8th ed. St. Louis: Mosby, 2005.

    Olendorf D, Jeryan C, Boyden K. Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Detroit, MI: Gale Group Research Company; 2000.

    Peritonitis. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: Updated July 2011. Accessed August 26, 2014.

    Townsend CM, et al. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 17th ed. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2004.

    Yamada T, Alpers DH, et al. Textbook of Gastroenterology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2003.

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