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Peritonitis is an inflammation of the lining of the abdominal and pelvic cavity (the peritoneum), caused an infection. The peritoneum is a thin, clear membrane that normally covers all the abdominal organs and the inside walls of the abdomen.

Peritonitis can become acute when a sudden inflammation of the peritoneum occurs, usually as a result of the rupture of some portion of the digestive tract. Sometimes the condition can also take a chronic form, where the individual experiences repeated attacks of infection, resulting from such conditions as pelvic inflammatory disease or from other sources of chronic infection.

Causes/risk factors

Most often, peritonitis results from an infection stemming from a perforation of the bowel. A ruptured appendix or diverticulum are two sources of such an infection. Other causes include perforations of the stomach, intestine, gallbladder, or appendix. Pelvic inflammatory disease in sexually active women is also a common cause of peritonitis. The condition can also develop after surgery if bacteria infect the abdomen during an operation.

Finally, peritonitis can also result from injury and bleeding, or from inflammatory diseases such as lupus.

Signs & symptoms

Common symptoms of peritonitis include:

  • severe abdominal pain, aggravated by any motion;
  • nausea and vomiting;
  • fever;
  • abdominal tenderness or distention;
  • and fluid in the abdomen.


Quick diagnosis of peritonitis is vital, as complications can occur quickly. In addition to taking a medical history and performing a physical examination, physicians may request the following diagnostic procedures in order to diagnose peritonitis:

  • x-rays;
  • laboratory tests;
  • or surgery to explore and repair the cause.


Treatment of peritonitis is generally aimed at the underlying condition. Often, emergency surgery is needed, especially when appendicitis, a perforated peptic ulcer, or diverticulitis may be the cause of the infection. Prompt treatment is extremely important as major complications, including shock or organ failure, can occur quickly. Peritonitis can be fatal if not treated properly.

Antibiotics are given immediately, once peritonitis has been diagnosed. Sometimes, a tube is inserted through the nose into the stomach or intestine to drain fluid and gas. Intravenous fluids are also given to replace fluids that have been lost.