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Peritonitis is an infection resulting in inflammation of the peritoneum, which is a thin membrane that lines the inside of the abdominal wall and the organs within the abdominal cavity. The infection leading to the inflammation can is either bacterial or fungal, and in other cases inflammation can be caused by fluid build up, other infections, or injury.

Peritonitis requires prompt attention to treat the underlying infection or other underlying conditions. Treatment usually involves antibiotics and in more severe circumstances can require surgery. If left untreated the infections can spread and become potentially life threatening, leading to a bloodstream infection known as bacteremia, or a widespread infection throughout the body known as sepsis. Sepsis can spread rapidly and ultimately lead to organ failure and death.

Peritonitis Causes

  • Peritoneal dialysis. Dialysis is the process that removes waste products and extra fluids from the blood when the kidneys can no longer do so. In peritoneal dialysis, tiny blood vessels in the peritoneal cavity are used to perform this filtering function, and can sometimes result in peritonitis. Infections can be attributed to unclean surroundings, poor hygiene, or contaminated equipment.
  • Fluid buildup. Diseases such as cirrhosis which cause damage to the liver, can result in fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity known as ascites. This fluid buildup can often lead to bacterial infection.
  • Secondary peritonitis. When other medical conditions lead to the inflammation, it is known as secondary peritonitis. These conditions can include
    • Ruptured appendix, ulcers, or perforated colons. Any such lesions in the alimentary canal can allow bacteria to enter the peritoneum
    • Pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas, can allow bacteria to spread outside the pancreas to the peritoneum
    • Diverticulitis, which is infection of small bulging pouches in our digestive tract, may cause peritonitis is one of the pouches ruptures, spilling waste into the abdomen
    • Trauma and injury may also cause peritonitis by allowing bacteria or chemicals from other compartments of the body enter the abdominal cavity.

Peritonitis Treatment

Although peritonitis is a serious condition and requires immediate attention, it can be treated relatively easily in most cases. Usually the doctor will prescribe an antibiotic medication to fight the infection and prevent it from spreading. Surgery can also be necessary in some cases to remove the infected tissue.

Justin Bokhoor – Medical Student

University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

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