Peritonitis is an inflammation of the peritoneum, a two-layered membrane that overlays the abdominal cavity and covers the stomach, intestines, and other organs in the abdominal cavity.
Inflammation is almost always the result of some basic disease, not the disease itself. Peritonitis can arise as a complication of a disorder such as an irritation or a rupture of the gastrointestinal tract – for example, perforated stomach or duodenal ulcer, diverticulum or appendicitis. Inflammation can also arise as a complication of pelvic infection, e.g. inflammation (in women) of the oviduct and/or uterus (located in the lower abdominal cavity). Peritonitis can also occur after an operative procedure in the abdominal cavity.
Symptoms vary depending on the source of the stimulus or infection, but the main symptom – a strong pain in the abdominal cavity – is always present. Pain is the strongest near the site of the underlying disease; if the cause is appendicitis (inflammation of the appendix), the pains will be the hardest on the right side of the abdominal cavity. Pain will become stronger if the patient moves and if he touches the sensitive area. A patient often experiences nausea, followed by vomiting, and fever is common. Two or three hours after the inflammation the stomach becomes bloated, the pain diffuse (it expands) and is weaker. However, this is not a sign of improvement, but a warning and a sign of danger.
Peritonitis is rare in countries with a high health care standard. However, peritonitis is almost unavoidable if a treatment of an emergency abdominal case, such as a perforated duodenal ulcer or appendicitis, is delayed.
If no appropriate measures are taken, the patient may dehydrate due to frequent vomiting. Abolition of severe pain is a sign of the paralysis of the intestine, and the patient will die if no emergency action is taken.
What to do?
Peritonitis is a serious disease. If you suffer from severe abdominal pain that lasts longer than 10-12 minutes, especially if accompanied by some of the symptoms mentioned, call your doctor or an ambulance immediately. Your doctor will first try to determine the root cause of the disease, ask you questions and examine your stomach, press it in various places to find the inflamed area. X-rays may be needed, too.
An emergency surgical procedure for solving the root cause of the inflammation of the peritoneum is generally the only possible treatment. Upon arrival at the hospital, your intestiens will be emptied with a tube that goes through the esophagus and stomach. To cure the inflammation and to strengthen you for the operation, you will get antibiotics, and often nutrients and the required fluid – by intravenous infusion. After that, a doctor will open the abdominal cavity and remove the organ that caused the inflammation (like in the case of appendicitis) or stitch it (in case of, for example, perforated ulcer).
Prospects for complete recovery are excellent. Thanks to antibiotics, today only a small number of people dies from peritonitis.