Pronounced: peh-rit-oh-NYE-tis


Peritonitis is an inflammation or infection of the peritoneum. The peritoneum is a thin tissue lining that covers the inside of the abdominal cavity. It also covers the outside of the intestines and other abdominal organs.

There are several types:

  • Primary
  • Secondary
  • Peritoneal dialysis-related

Peritonitis is a serious condition. It requires immediate treatment. If not promptly treated, it can be fatal.

Causes    TOP

  • Primary peritonitis—Occurs when there is a buildup of fluid in the abdomen. This is called ascites. It is caused by health conditions, such as cirrhosis (chronic liver disease).
  • Secondary peritonitis—Caused by bacteria that enter the abdominal cavity. Can be due to an injury or a condition, such as a ruptured appendix.
  • Dialysis-related peritonitis—Caused by bacteria that enter the peritoneal cavity during or after peritoneal dialysis (a treatment for kidney disease).

Secondary Peritonitis

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Risk Factors    TOP

Factors that may increase your chance of peritonitis include:

Symptoms    TOP

Peritonitis may cause:

  • Severe pain or tenderness in the abdomen
  • Pain in the abdomen that is worse with motion
  • Bloating of the abdomen
  • Constipation
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness or lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid pulse or breathing rate
  • Dehydration —signs include dry skin and lips, decreased urine production

Diagnosis    TOP

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include:

Treatment    TOP

Treatment depends on the cause. It may include:

  • Surgery to repair openings in the skin surface or to remove damaged tissue
  • Antibiotics to treat infection
  • Replacement of fluids

Prevention    TOP

There are no current guidelines to prevent peritonitis.


Gastro—American Gastroenterological Association
The American College of Gastroenterology


Canadian Association of Gastroenterology


Bacterial peritonitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
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Updated July 1, 2014. Accessed August 26, 2014.
Feldman M, et al. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 8th ed. St. Louis: Mosby, 2005.
Olendorf D, Jeryan C, Boyden K. Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Detroit, MI: Gale Group Research Company; 2000.
Peritonitis. Mayo Clinic website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated July 2011. Accessed August 26, 2014.
Townsend CM, et al. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 17th ed. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2004.
Yamada T, Alpers DH, et al. Textbook of Gastroenterology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2003.
Last reviewed August 2014 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Last Updated: 9/30/2013