Inflammation of the walls of the abdomen causes and symptoms

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

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

  • Symptoms of peritonitis icon plus

    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.
  • Diagnosis icon plus

    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)

    If you're diagnosed with peritonitis, hospital treatment will be needed to clear up the infection.
  • Potential treatment options icon plus

    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.

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