HCA UK experts talk you through the main symptoms of peritonitis and explain why it’s important to be treated quickly

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About peritonitis

The peritoneum is the inner lining of the abdomen. When this becomes infected, it causes peritonitis which means inflammation. This can rapidly spread around the body infecting other organs covered by this lining, such as the kidneys, liver and bowel.

Need to know 

Common causes of peritonitis include:

  • a burst stomach ulcer or a burst appendix
  • digestive problems, such as Crohn's disease or diverticulitis
  • pelvic inflammatory disease
  • pancreatitis
  • surgery
  • injury to the stomach
  • cirrhosis

If you notice any of the following symptoms of peritonitis it’s important to see your GP immediately, or go to A&E:

  • sudden tummy pain that gets worse when you touch it
  • a high temperature of 38°C or above
  • rapid heartbeat
  • difficulty urinating, or peeing much less than normal

Other symptoms include a lack of appetite, swollen tummy, feeling sick and vomiting.e

If you experience any of the symptoms, it’s important to see a GP or consultant quickly as serious complications like sepsis can happen if the infection spreads. If it’s left untreated, peritonitis can even be life-threatening.

In order to diagnose peritonitis, your consultant may carry out one or more of the following tests:

  • blood test
  • x-ray or ultrasound
  • fluid analysis (taking a fluid sample from the peritoneum using a thin needle)

Treatment usually involves up to two weeks of antibiotics given via a needle into the vein. If the infection was caused by peritoneal dialysis (kidney failure treatment), antibiotics may be injected directly into the peritoneum (lining of your tummy).

If the infection has made serious damage to the stomach lining, you may need surgery to remove it.

Some people develop abscesses in the lining. These are drained with a needle using a local anaesthetic.

It’s common to have problems digesting food, so you may need a feeding tube. This will be either passed into your stomach through your nose, or placed inside your stomach using keyhole surgery.

Our Peritonitis locations

The Harley Street Clinic

The Harley Street Clinic

35 Weymouth Street W1G 8BJ London
The Princess Grace Hospital

The Princess Grace Hospital

42-52 Nottingham Place W1U 5NY London
The Lister Hospital

The Lister Hospital

Chelsea Bridge Road, SW1W 8RH London
The Shard Outpatients

The Shard Outpatients

The Shard, 32 St Thomas Street SE1 9BS London
London Bridge Hospital

London Bridge Hospital

27 Tooley Street SE1 2PR London
Walk-In GP Centre at London Bridge Hospital

Walk-In GP Centre at London Bridge Hospital

29 Tooley Street SE1 2PR London

Patient stories

This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.