Home > Causes of Pain > Peritonitis


By: Jody Ehrhardt - Updated: 8 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Stomach Ailments Nausea Abdominal

Stomach ailments such as nausea and pain, can be a sign of many different types of abdominal conditions, illnesses, and diseases. One of the more serious, and sometimes life-threatening, conditions that also share these symptoms is peritonitis.

Understanding Peritonitis

Peritonitis is the medical tem for inflammation of the peritoneum. The wall of the abdomen is lined with this thin membrane. When this membrane becomes infected the inflammation causes pain and other symptoms in the abdominal area.

The peritoneum can become infected in one of two ways. First, infection can travel to the membrane from the blood stream or lymph nodes. This condition is called Primary Peritonitis and is extremely rare. Second, bacteria can enter the membrane from the gastrointestinal tract and cause infection. This type of peritonitis is called secondary and is the most common form of the condition.

The Signs, Symptoms, and Risk Factors of Peritonitis

While anyone can develop peritonitis, there are certain risk factors that increase your chances of suffering from the condition. Common risk factors for primary peritonitis include Pelvic inflammatory disease, liver disease, immune system problems, and kidney damage. Risk factors for secondary peritonitis include inflammatory bowel disease, stomach ulcers, gall bladder inflammation, appendicitis, intestine problems, and damage to the pancreas.

Once the peritoneum becomes infected, no matter how that infection penetrates the peritoneum, certain common symptoms begin to appear. The first signs and symptoms of peritonitis include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal swelling, and pain. This stomach pain can range from a dull, generalized ache to severe pain, which includes sharp spasms.

As the condition advances and the inflammation progresses other symptoms will begin to appear. Other signs that you may be suffering from peritonitis include the inability to pass bowel movements, limited urine production, fever, increased breathing rates, shallow breaths, and low blood pressure. If you suffer from any of these symptoms you need to see your doctor right away.

Diagnosing Peritonitis

Because peritonitis can become life-threatening if left untreated correct diagnosis is very important. When you first present at the doctor's office with the above abdominal symptoms your doctor will want to examine your stomach for further signs of peritonitis. During this procedure the doctor will most likely press on your stomach to check for signs of swelling and fluid retention. He may also listen to your stomach with a stethoscope to check for bowel sounds.

If the physical examination uncovers signs of peritonitis your doctor will probably follow up with further tests in order to make a more accurate diagnosis. These tests include blood tests and abdominal fluid tests to check for infection, CT scans to detect excess fluid in the abdomen, and chest x-rays to identify air in the abdomen.

Once a diagnosis has been made treatment usually begins immediately in order to restrict the progression of the infection.

Treatment for Peritonitis

The most common type of treatment for peritonitis is surgery. Surgery to remove the infected organ, the infectious agents, or to repair damaged organs is the most effective way to control peritonitis. Surgery can also be used to drain off excess fluid in the abdominal cavity and locate the exact source of the infection.

Antibiotics are also commonly used in the treatment of peritonitis. These medications are used to kill the bacteria in the body, inhibit the spread of infection, and ward off further infection. Antibiotics can be prescribed alone for the treatment of early stage peritonitis, but are more commonly used after surgery to prevent infection and help clear up any lingering signs of peritonitis.

Since peritonitis can be a very serious illness it is best to check with your doctor if you begin experiencing any of the early signs of the condition.

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