Peritonitis is an inflammation of the peritoneum. The peritoneum is a thin membrane which surrounds the digestive organs and lines the abdominal cavity. Intestinal ruptures (such as in the case of appendicitis) are usually responsible for peritonitis. Peritonitis must be treated quickly as it can cause life-threatening sepsis.

There are two different types of peritonitis: primary and secondary peritonitis. In the case of primary peritonitis, which is extremely rare, the peritoneum is infected with bacteria via the blood. However, peritonitis is usually secondary peritonitis, in which an intestinal rupture or a stomach rupture is responsible for the bacterial infection. Illnesses which can cause such a rupture include appendicitis stomach ulcer, diverticula or inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Severe stomach pain with a tight abdominal wall are typical symptoms of peritonitis. Patients often adopt a relieving posture by drawing up their legs and bending their back to alleviate the pain. The pain is frequently accompanied by nausea, vomiting and constipation. Pallor, sweating, fever and bloody diarrhoea are already indications of a blood disease. Peritonitis is a life-threatening disease which must be diagnosed and treated quickly.

Diagnostic examinations involve palpating the stomach, listening to the bowel sounds, an ultrasound of the stomach as well as blood examinations and measuring the blood pressure.

If there is a confirmed diagnosis of peritonitis, emergency surgery is usually required. Antibiotic treatment is started immediately parallel to this. The goal of the surgery is to remedy the causes of the intestinal or abdominal rupture. After this, the peritoneum is then rinsed out with an irrigation solution. This procedure is known as a peritoneal rinse. Sometimes, the peritoneum has to be rinsed repeatedly over a period of several days. Find out more about abdominal surgery in the laparoscopic surgery, peritoneal surgery, gastric surgery, appendix surgery, small intestine surgery and colon surgery sections.

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