Peritonitis is an inflammation (irritation) of the peritoneum. This is the thin tissue that lines the inner wall of the abdomen and covers most of the abdominal organs.
Peritonitis is caused by a collection of blood, body fluids, or pus in the abdomen (intra-abdominal abscess).
Types of peritonitis are:
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:
- Fever and chills
- Passing little or no stools or gas
- Excessive fatigue
- Passing less urine
- Nausea and vomiting
- Racing heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
Exams 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.
The cause must be identified and treated promptly. Treatment typically involves surgery and antibiotics.
Peritonitis can be life-threatening and may cause complications. These depend on the type of peritonitis.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you have symptoms of peritonitis.
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: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 45.
Prather C. Inflammatory and anatomic diseases of the intestine, peritoneum, mesentery, and omentum. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 144.
Last reviewed 4/9/2014 by Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, General Surgery practice specializing in breast cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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