If you think you may have 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 is a life-threatening condition where the membrane lining your inner abdomen becomes inflamed or infected.
- Causes include a burst appendix, abdominal surgery, liver cirrhosis or infection of peritoneal dialysis fluid.
- You may experience severe abdominal pain that is worst when you move.
- If you have peritonitis, you will need to be treated in hospital, usually in an intensive care unit.
What is peritonitis?
Peritonitis is inflammation of the tissue that lines your abdominal walls. This tissue is a thin, silky membrane called the peritoneum. It covers your stomach, liver and other organs in your abdomen, as well as the inner wall of the abdomen itself.
What causes peritonitis?
Peritonitis is usually caused by a bacterial infection.
Conditions where bacteria can reach your peritoneal lining and cause an infection include:
- a hole in your digestive tract, such as a burst appendix or perforated stomach (peptic) ulcer
- liver cirrhosis that leads to build-up of fluid in your abdomen (ascites), which may become infected
- end-stage kidney disease requiring peritoneal dialysis — the dialysis fluid in your abdomen can become infected
- pelvic inflammatory disease or ruptured ectopic pregnancy
- surgery on the organs in your abdomen
What are the symptoms of peritonitis?
The most common symptom of peritonitis is severe abdominal pain that gets worse with movement, so you feel that you want to lie very still.
Other symptoms you may experience include:
- a rigid (hard) abdomen
- inability to pass wind
- nausea and vomiting
However, you might also have few or no symptoms.
The Symptom Checker can guide you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether you need to see a doctor, go to hospital or call triple zero (000).
CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.
How will I be diagnosed with peritonitis?
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, medical history and general health and carry out a physical examination. They may refer you for blood tests or imaging scans. In some cases, a sample of fluid will be removed from you abdomen and tested.
FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.
What treatment will I need for peritonitis?
If you are diagnosed with peritonitis, you will need to be hospitalised for treatment, often in an intensive care unit. You’re likely to need intravenous antibiotics. Depending on the nature of your peritonitis, you may also need treatment for the underlying cause, such as surgery to repair any ruptured organs.
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Last reviewed: August 2022