Peritonitis Definition

Inflammation and infection of the peritoneal membrane that encases the contents of the abdominal cavity. Peritonitis usually indicates a perforation of the intestinal tract that allows intestinal content, including normally present bacteria, to spill into the abdominal cavity.

Such a breach may occur as the result of appendicitis or colitis, or with inflammatory bowel disease (ibd) or diverticular disease that erodes through the wall of the intestine. Peritoneal ABSCESS also often causes peritonitis. Peritoneal dialysis for KIDNEY failure, which circulates fluid within the peritoneal cavity to draw toxins from the body, may introduce bacteria into the peritoneal cavity to cause peritonitis.

Peritonitis is potentially life-threatening and requires emergency treatment and usually surgery.

Symptoms of Peritonitis

Symptoms often appear suddenly and are severe. Initially the perforation may provide relief because it releases pressure but the spreading infection quickly worsens symptoms. There is often abdominal rigidity and guarding (extreme resistance to having anyone touch the abdomen), abdominal distention, high fever, and signs of septicemia (septic shock) such as rapid pulse and respiration. Blood tests and abdominal x-ray or ultrasound generally confirm the diagnosis. The infection paralyzes the intestine, halting peristalsisand the absorption of fluids, nutrients, and electrolytes. Electrolytes are critically important for proper regulation of many body activities including those of the brain and heart.

Peritonitis Treatment

Treatment is immediate intravenous fluids to restore the body’s electrolyte balance, antibiotic medications to begin fighting the infection, and usually emergency surgery to drain the infection from the peritoneal cavity and remove any necrotic (dead) tissue or bowel. Recovery is not certain, and often complications remain following treatment, depending on the reason for the peritonitis.


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