Health Information and Tools > Patient Care Handouts >  Learning About Peritonitis
Facebook Tweet Share

Main Content

Learning About Peritonitis

Position of peritoneum surrounding the organs in the body

What is peritonitis?

Peritonitis is an infection of the lining of the belly (peritoneum). It causes pain and swelling inside the belly. It may also cause a fever.

It can be the result of medical problems in the belly, such as a burst appendix. It can also be the result of surgery or an injury in the belly. This can lead to an infection that is caused by bacteria.

This infection is serious. It needs medical care right away. If the illness is not treated, it gets worse fast and can become life-threatening.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of peritonitis include:

  • Swelling of the belly, which may feel hard (rigid).
  • Severe pain and tenderness in the belly that gets worse when you move, cough, or press on the belly. The pain sometimes reaches into the shoulder.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • A rapid pulse.
  • Chills and fever.
  • Rapid breathing.
  • Confusion, memory loss, or feeling less alert.

How is it treated?

You may have a CT (computed tomography) scan or other imaging test. This can help find out if there is damage to an organ in the belly. If so, then you will likely need surgery to repair the damage. If your symptoms are severe, you may need surgery right away.

Peritonitis will also be treated with antibiotics. If there is fluid in your belly, your doctor may do a procedure called paracentesis (say "pair-uh-sen-TEE-sus") to get a sample of the fluid. The fluid can be tested to help your doctor decide which antibiotics will work best to treat the infection. The test can also help find the cause of your symptoms.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.