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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

A collection of pus in the abdomen, called an intra-abdominal abscess, may cause peritonitis.

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 will perform a physical exam. The abdomen is usually tender, and may feel firm and "board-like." The patient may "guard" the area by tightening the stomach muscles when examined, curling up, or refusing to allow the area to be touched.

Blood tests, x-rays, and CT scans may be ordered. 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

Turnage RH, Richardson KA, Li BD, McDonald JC. Abdominal Wall, Umbilicus, Peritoneum, Mesenteries, Omentum, and Retroperitoneum. In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 18th ed. St. Louis, Mo: WB Saunders; 2008:chap 43.


Review Date: 6/10/2010
Reviewed By: Shabir Bhimji MD, PhD, Specializing in Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery, Midland , TX Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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