Infections - Prevention, Diagnosis & Treatment

Peritonitis: Understanding its Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

By S.I. (staff writer) , published on October 31, 2023

Medicine Telehealth Health pain infection

What is Peritonitis?

Peritonitis is a serious medical condition characterized by inflammation of the peritoneum, the thin membrane that lines the inner wall of the abdomen and covers the organs within it [1]. This condition requires prompt medical attention due to its potential to become life-threatening if left untreated.


What are the Symptoms of Peritonitis?

The symptoms of peritonitis can vary depending on the underlying cause and the severity of the inflammation. However, some common signs include [2]:

  • Abdominal pain that is sudden, severe, and localized [3]
  • Tenderness and sensitivity of the abdomen to touch
  • Swelling and bloating of the abdomen
  • Fever and chills
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Reduced appetite
  • Rapid heartbeat and shallow breathing

It's important to note that peritonitis can be caused by various factors, including infection, injury, and certain medical procedures. The symptoms might develop gradually or appear suddenly, and they require immediate medical attention to determine the cause and initiate appropriate treatment.


What are the Causes of Peritonitis?

Peritonitis can arise from different sources, and the cause often dictates the severity and type of treatment required. Some common causes include [4]:

  • Infection: Bacterial or fungal infections can lead to infectious peritonitis. These infections may stem from a ruptured appendix, a perforated stomach ulcer, or an infected abdominal wound after surgery.
  • Peritoneal Dialysis: Individuals receiving peritoneal dialysis to treat kidney problems are at risk of developing dialysis-related peritonitis, which occurs when bacteria contaminate the dialysis fluid.
  • Gastrointestinal Perforation: A hole or tear in the digestive tract due to conditions like diverticulitis or inflammatory bowel disease can allow bacteria or digestive juices to leak into the peritoneal cavity, triggering inflammation.
  • Trauma: Blunt or penetrating abdominal trauma can cause inflammation and infection in the peritoneum.


Treatment Options for Peritonitis:

Prompt medical intervention is crucial when peritonitis is suspected. The treatment approach depends on the underlying cause and the severity of the condition. It often involves a combination of the following measures [5]:

  • Antibiotics: In cases of infectious peritonitis, antibiotics are administered to fight the underlying bacterial or fungal infection.
  • Surgery: Surgical intervention may be necessary to repair perforations, remove infected tissue, or address the source of infection, such as removing an inflamed appendix or repairing a damaged organ.
  • Drainage: If there is a buildup of fluid or pus in the abdomen, drainage procedures might be performed to alleviate pressure and remove infectious material.
  • Supportive Care: Patients with peritonitis often require supportive care, including pain management, fluid and electrolyte balance, and monitoring of vital signs.

It's worth noting that the prognosis for peritonitis depends on several factors, including the cause, the promptness of treatment, and the overall health of the individual. Timely medical intervention greatly improves the chances of recovery and reduces the risk of complications.






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