Peritonitis is a bacterial or fungal infection of the peritoneum, a silk-like membrane that lines your inner abdominal wall and covers the organs within your abdomen. Peritonitis can result from any rupture (perforation) in your abdomen, or as a complication of other medical conditions.
Peritonitis requires prompt medical attention to fight the infection and, if necessary, to treat any underlying medical conditions. Treatment of peritonitis usually involves antibiotics and, in some cases, surgery. Left untreated, peritonitis can lead to severe, potentially life-threatening infection throughout your body.
If you're receiving peritoneal dialysis, you can help prevent peritonitis by following good hygiene before, during and after dialysis.
Signs and symptoms of peritonitis include:
If you're receiving peritoneal dialysis, peritonitis symptoms also include:
When to see a doctor
If you're receiving peritoneal dialysis, contact your health care provider immediately if your dialysis fluid is cloudy, if it contains white flecks, strands or clumps (fibrin), or if it has an unusual odor, especially if the area around your tube (catheter) is red or painful. These may be signs of peritonitis.
Infection of the peritoneum can happen for a variety of reasons. In most cases, the cause is a rupture (perforation) in the abdominal wall. Though it's rare, the condition can develop without an abdominal rupture. This type of peritonitis is called spontaneous peritonitis.
Common causes of ruptures that lead to peritonitis include:
Peritonitis that develops without an abdominal rupture (spontaneous peritonitis) is usually a complication of liver disease, such as cirrhosis. Advanced cirrhosis causes a large amount of fluid buildup in your abdominal cavity (ascites). That fluid buildup is susceptible to bacterial infection.
Factors that increase your risk of peritonitis include:
Left untreated, peritonitis can extend beyond your peritoneum, where it may cause:
Tests and diagnosis
To diagnose peritonitis, your doctor will talk with you about your medical history and perform a physical exam. When peritonitis is associated with peritoneal dialysis, your signs and symptoms, particularly cloudy dialysis fluid, may be enough for your doctor to diagnose the condition.
In cases of peritonitis in which the infection may be a result of other medical conditions (secondary peritonitis) or in which the infection arises from fluid buildup in your abdominal cavity (spontaneous peritonitis), your doctor may recommend the following tests to confirm a diagnosis:
The above tests may also be necessary if you're receiving peritoneal dialysis and a diagnosis of peritonitis is uncertain after a physical exam and an examination of the dialysis fluid.
Treatments and drugs
You may need to be hospitalized for peritonitis that's caused by infection from other medical conditions (secondary peritonitis). Treatment may include:
If you're undergoing peritoneal dialysis
Often, peritonitis associated with peritoneal dialysis is caused by germs around the catheter. If you're receiving peritoneal dialysis, take the following steps to prevent peritonitis:
If you've had spontaneous peritonitis before, or if you have peritoneal fluid buildup due to a medical condition such as cirrhosis, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to prevent peritonitis.
If you develop new abdominal pain or have a new injury
Last Updated: 2011-07-09
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