Inflammation of the tissue inside of your abdomen cavity (peritoneum) is called peritonitis. Infection or irritation of bodily fluids are the most common causes of this disease. This is a dangerous disease that could affect your organs or even pass into the bloodstream causing sepsis.

What is Peritonitis?

One of the most common causes of this condition is infection and peritonitis can be very dangerous. A membrane that is located inside your abdomen (belly) and wraps around the organs is called peritoneum. This disease usually happens when something inside the body breaks or leaks.

This condition can be mild or severe and can be located in one place or throughout your peritoneum. Peritonitis tends to become severe very fast, especially if it is infectious. That’s why physicians consider this condition an emergency. Additionally, in case the infection spreads into the bloodstream (septicemia) can provoke body shock and serious damage to your vital organs (septic shock).


The symptoms that people with peritonitis experience are different because it depends on certain factors. For example the severity of the condition, age, weight, existing health conditions, and others. Check below some peritonitis symptoms:

There are some symptoms that may appear due to infection. Examples include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fast heart rate
  • Breathing problems
  • Fever

In case you experience ascites, you have to consider the following symptoms. For example:

  • Fatigue
  • Malaise
  • Swollen legs and feet (edema)
  • Thrombocytopenia (easy bruising and bleeding)
  • Mild cognitive impairment

Furthermore, you may experience this condition and not know about it. It is due to an existing condition that has similar symptoms as peritonitis. Thus, it is advised to consult with your healthcare provider.


Usually, the common cause of peritonitis is a bacterial infection that spreads from one of your organs to others. In such cases, you might have a hole in your stomach that allows the spreading of bacteria to your peritoneal cavity. Another way that this condition may occur is a burst of the appendix, which also permits the bacteria to spread throughout your abdomen. Peritonitis can start in the peritoneum itself very rare. Check below some causes of peritonitis in detail:

Chemical Causes

While in most cases peritonitis occurs due to infection, it also may happen due to a chemical reaction to body fluids. Check below some examples:

  • One factor that can provoke chemical peritonitis is a cyst or tumor that ruptures in your abdomen.
  • An untreated ulcer may lead to a hole in your stomach and cause acid to leak throughout your abdomen.
  • In severe cases of pancreatitis, a perforation may occur and pancreatic enzymes can leak causing irritation.
  • In case of severe gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis), may happen a perforation in the tissues. Therefore, bile can leak in your abdomen and irritate your peritoneum with or without bacterial infection.

Infectious Causes

There are two types of infectious peritonitis such as primary and secondary. Primary infectious peritonitis is caused by an infection in the peritoneum itself and secondary is caused by a spread of bacteria from somewhere else in the body. Check below primary and secondary infectious peritonitis in detail:

  • Primary infectious peritonitis usually occurs in people with ascites. It is also called spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (SBP). This condition is characterized by an excess of fluid that leaks through veins and accumulates in the peritoneum. Health conditions that compromise your body’s defense (immune system) are usually the main cause of ascites. Examples include kidney and liver disease, heart failure, and cancer.
  • Another way that primary peritonitis may happen is through medical instruments. For example during dialysis and tube feeding.

The most common cause of this health condition is secondary infection. Thus, it usually happens due to:

  • A ruptured ectopic pregnancy
  • Injury or trauma of the abdomen
  • Abdominal surgery
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Infectious pancreatitis
  • Diverticulitis or inflammatory bowel disease
  • Peptic ulcer disease (perforated walls of the stomach)
  • Appendicitis (a burst of your appendix)

Discuss with your physician for more details.


Doctors will ask you about the symptoms and medical history as diagnosing other diseases. Additionally, they will perform a physical examination of your abdomen to verify if it is swollen, sensitive, or rigid. Thereafter, they can order you to do a blood test to determine whether you have an infection (increased white blood cell count) or inflammation. Physicians may take images of your abdominal organ to identify the exact cause of peritonitis.

Furthermore, another way to determine and confirm the infection in the peritoneum is to get some fluid with a needle (paracentesis) and test it in the laboratory (peritoneal fluid culture).

However, in case your doctor cannot find the exact cause of the peritonitis, surgery may be required. The surgeon will explore the abdominal cavity to identify and fix the issue.


Usually, the treatment includes IV fluids and broad-spectrum antibiotics. They are used to treat and prevent infection. Early diagnosis and suitable treatment can help to prevent future complications and symptoms. In some severe cases, emergency surgery may be needed to fix the problem.

However, you should not use any medications without a doctor’s recommendation because it may worsen your symptoms.


If you leave this condition untreated it may provoke some complications. Examples include:

  • An infection that returns after treatment of the original cause (Tertiary peritonitis).
  • Spontaneous bacterial peritonitis in those who suffer from liver disease may cause hepatorenal syndrome.
  • Long-term inflammation may lead to scar tissue (abdominal adhesions), which may obstruct your bowels.
  • Your organs may be temporarily paralyzed, which causes urinary retention and constipation.
  • Electrolyte imbalance and dehydration may also happen.
  • In case the infection spreads into the bloodstream, it can cause septicemia and sepsis (which can be fatal).

Frequently Asked Questions

What foods I can eat while suffering from peritonitis?

It is recommended to include in your diet foods high in vitamin B (such as almonds, beans, whole grains, dark leafy greens, and sea vegetables). Do not eat refined foods (including sugar, pasta, white bread, and others. You can also include to your diet healthy oils (such as vegetable and olive oils). Ask your healthcare professional if you have any questions.

Can be peritonitis fatal?

The infection usually interrupts the normal movements of the intestine, which leads very fast to dehydration and imbalanced electrolytes. Therefore, this effect can damage your organs such as kidneys, liver, lungs, and others. Thus, an individual with untreated peritonitis may die in several days. Consult with your physician for more details.

What are the three stages of peritonitis?

This health condition is classified according to the pathogenesis. For example Primary Peritonitis, Secondary Peritonitis, and Tertiary Peritonitis.

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