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Peritonitis is an inflammation of the tissue covering the abdominal organs and abdominal walls. The inflammation is commonly caused by bacterial infection. Peritonitis is a very serious condition that needs urgent medical attention.

What is peritonitis?

Peritonitis is an inflammation of the tissue that lines your abdominal walls. This is called the peritoneum, and it covers your stomach, liver and other organs in your digestive system.

There are two main types of peritonitis:

  • spontaneous peritonitis
  • secondary peritonitis.

Peritonitis causes

Spontaneous peritonitis occurs when a bacterial infection develops in the peritoneum. This can happen to anybody, but is more likely to happen in people with liver disease or kidney disease.

Secondary peritonitis develops when an abdominal organ is infected or injured, and the infection spreads. Common causes include:

Peritonitis symptoms

The most common symptom of peritonitis is severe abdominal pain. Other symptoms may include fever, inability to break wind, constipation, nausea and vomiting.

However, you might also have few or no symptoms.

If your symptoms seem to indicate peritonitis, particularly if you use dialysis or know you are at risk because of an underlying condition, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance or go to a hospital emergency department.

Peritonitis diagnosis

Peritonitis is a life-threatening condition and requires urgent medical attention. A person with peritonitis can die within a few days if not treated.

A diagnosis may be based on a physical examination, medical history, blood tests, scans or fluid analysis.

Peritonitis treatment

If you are diagnosed with peritonitis, it is likely you will be hospitalised for treatment.

Surgery may be carried out to repair any ruptured organs and antibiotics are also likely to be administered.

Depending on the nature of the peritonitis, the underlying cause may also need to be treated.

Last reviewed: April 2016

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