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Inflammation of the Peritoneum - Peritonitis

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Peritonitis is inflammation of the peritoneum, the thin membrane that lines the inside of the abdominal cavity.

What is going on in the body?

The peritoneum can become inflamed for various reasons. Infections of various types cause most cases of peritonitis. Peritonitis is quite painful, and often indicates the presence of a serious disease.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

Most often, peritonitis is caused by an infection inside the abdomen. For example, appendicitis or other bowel infections can cause the problem. Other types of inflammation can also cause peritonitis without the presence of an infection. One of these is inflammation of pancreas, known as pancreatitis. Inflammation due to chemical irritants is another cause. Peritonitis can also be caused by irritation of the peritoneum from bleeding in the abdominal cavity, such as a ruptured ovarian cyst.

Symptoms & Signs

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?

Symptoms of peritonitis can vary depending on the underlying cause of the condition. Most of the time symptoms include:

  • abdominal distress, which can include excruciating abdominal pain
  • tenderness of the belly when it is touched
  • nausea and vomiting
  • fever
  • absence of bowel movements

  • Diagnosis & Tests

    How is the condition diagnosed?

    The healthcare provider will take a person's medical history and perform a physical exam. Sometimes further tests are needed to determine the underlying cause. These may include blood tests, x-rays and surgery for an abdominal exploration.

    Prevention & Expectations

    What can be done to prevent the condition?

    Nothing can be done to prevent this condition.

    What are the long-term effects of the condition?

    The long term effects of the disease depend on the underlying cause. For example, peritonitis that stems from a ruptured ovarian cyst will not have any long-term effects. If the condition is the result of infection, it may cause death.

    What are the risks to others?

    There are generally no risks to others.

    Treatment & Monitoring

    What are the treatments for the condition?

    Treatment will depend on the cause of the condition. In mild cases, a person may need only rest and intravenous fluids. In severe cases, medications and urgent surgery may be needed to prevent death.

    What are the side effects of the treatments?

    Medications can cause side effects such as allergic reactions, stomach upset, and other symptoms. Specific side effects depend on the medication used. Surgery carries the risks of bleeding, infection, and death.

    What happens after treatment for the condition?

    No further treatment will be needed if the cause is corrected. For example, peritonitis brought on by an infected appendix will usually be cured by an appendectomy, or surgical removal of the appendix.

    How is the condition monitored?

    The cause of the condition will deterime how it is tracked. Methods include:

  • blood tests, such as a complete blood count or CBC
  • physical exams
  • tracking of symptoms
  • x-rays, including abdominal x-rays

  • Attribution

    Author:Adam Brochert, MD
    Date Written:
    Editor:Slon, Stephanie, BA
    Edit Date:05/01/00
    Reviewer:William M. Boggs, MD
    Date Reviewed:05/02/01


    Sabiston Textbook of Surgery, 1997, Sabiston et al.