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|Synonyms||Surgical abdomen, acute abdomen|
|Peritonitis from tuberculosis|
|Specialty||Emergency medicine, general surgery|
|Symptoms||Severe pain, swelling of the abdomen, fever|
|Complications||Shock, acute respiratory distress syndrome|
|Causes||Perforation of the intestinal tract, pancreatitis, pelvic inflammatory disease, cirrhosis, ruptured appendix|
|Risk factors||Ascites, peritoneal dialysis|
|Diagnostic method||Examination, blood tests, medical imaging|
|Treatment||Antibiotics, intravenous fluids, pain medication, surgery|
Peritonitis is inflammation of the peritoneum, the lining of the inner wall of the abdomen and cover of the abdominal organs. Symptoms may include severe pain, swelling of the abdomen, fever, or weight loss. One part or the entire abdomen may be tender. Complications may include shock and acute respiratory distress syndrome.
Causes include perforation of the intestinal tract, pancreatitis, pelvic inflammatory disease, stomach ulcer, cirrhosis, or a ruptured appendix. Risk factors include ascites and peritoneal dialysis. Diagnosis is generally based on examination, blood tests, and medical imaging.
Treatment often includes antibiotics, intravenous fluids, pain medication, and surgery. Other measures may include a nasogastric tube or blood transfusion. Without treatment death may occur within a few days. Approximately 7.5% of people have appendicitis at some point in time. About 20% of people with cirrhosis who are hospitalized have peritonitis.
The main manifestations of peritonitis are acute abdominal pain, abdominal tenderness and abdominal guarding, which are exacerbated by moving the peritoneum, e.g., coughing (forced cough may be used as a test), flexing one's hips, or eliciting the Blumberg sign (a.k.a. rebound tenderness, meaning that pressing a hand on the abdomen elicits less pain than releasing the hand abruptly, which will aggravate the pain, as the peritoneum snaps back into place). Rigidity (involuntary contraction of the abdominal muscles) is the most specific exam finding for diagnosing peritonitis (+ likelihood ratio: 3.9). The presence of these signs in a patient is sometimes referred to as peritonism. The localization of these manifestations depends on whether peritonitis is localized (e.g., appendicitis or diverticulitis before perforation), or generalized to the whole abdomen. In either case, pain typically starts as a generalized abdominal pain (with involvement of poorly localizing innervation of the visceral peritoneal layer), and may become localized later (with the involvement of the somatically innervated parietal peritoneal layer). Peritonitis is an example of an acute abdomen.
A diagnosis of peritonitis is based primarily on the clinical manifestations described above. Rigidity (involuntary contraction of the abdominal muscles) is the most specific exam finding for diagnosing peritonitis (+ likelihood ratio: 3.9). If peritonitis is strongly suspected, then surgery is performed without further delay for other investigations. Leukocytosis, hypokalemia, hypernatremia, and acidosis may be present, but they are not specific findings. Abdominal X-rays may reveal dilated, edematous intestines, although such X-rays are mainly useful to look for pneumoperitoneum, an indicator of gastrointestinal perforation. The role of whole-abdomen ultrasound examination is under study and is likely to expand in the future. Computed tomography (CT or CAT scanning) may be useful in differentiating causes of abdominal pain. If reasonable doubt still persists, an exploratory peritoneal lavage or laparoscopy may be performed. In patients with ascites, a diagnosis of peritonitis is made via paracentesis (abdominal tap): More than 250 polymorphonucleate cells per μL is considered diagnostic. In addition, Gram stain is almost always negative, whereas culture of the peritoneal fluid can determine the microorganism responsible and determine their sensitivity to antimicrobial agents.
In normal conditions, the peritoneum appears greyish and glistening; it becomes dull 2–4 hours after the onset of peritonitis, initially with scarce serous or slightly turbid fluid. Later on, the exudate becomes creamy and evidently suppurative; in dehydrated patients, it also becomes very inspissated. The quantity of accumulated exudate varies widely. It may be spread to the whole peritoneum, or be walled off by the omentum and viscera. Inflammation features infiltration by neutrophils with fibrino-purulent exudation.
Depending on the severity of the patient's state, the management of peritonitis may include:
If properly treated, typical cases of surgically correctable peritonitis (e.g., perforated peptic ulcer, appendicitis, and diverticulitis) have a mortality rate of about <10% in otherwise healthy patients. The mortality rate rises to about 40% in the elderly, or in those with significant underlying illness, as well as cases that present late (after 48 hours).
Without being treated, generalised peritonitis almost always causes death. The stage magician Harry Houdini died this way, having contracted streptococcus peritonitis after his appendix ruptured and was removed too late to prevent spread of the infection.