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Peritonitis

Definition

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

Alternative Names

Acute abdomen

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Peritonitis is caused by a collection of blood, body fluids, or pus in the abdomen (intra-abdominal abscess).

See the specific types of peritonitis:

Symptoms

The belly (abdomen) is very painful or tender. The pain may become worse when the belly is touched or when you move.

Your belly may look or feel bloated. This is called abdominal distention.

Other symptoms may include:

Signs and tests

The doctor or nurse will perform a physical exam. The abdomen is usually tender. It may feel firm or"board-like." Persons with peritonitis usually curl up or refuse to let anyone touch the area.

Blood tests, x-rays, and CT scans may be done. If there is a lot of fluid in the belly area, the doctor may use a needle to remove some and send it for testing.

Treatment

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

Complications

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

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.

Prevention

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

References

Badgwell B, Turnage RH. Abdominal Wall, umbilicus, peritoneum,mesenteries, omentum, and retroperitoneum. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery.19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2012:chap 45.

Prather C. Inflammatory and anatomic diseases of the intestine, peritoneum, mesentery, and omentum. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 144.


Review Date: 5/16/2012
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Ann Rogers, MD, Associate Professor of Surgery; Director, Penn State Surgical Weight Loss Program, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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