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Peritonitis is an inflammation of the peritoneum, the membrane that surrounds the organs of the abdominal cavity. The peritoneum is composed of two layers, one lining the abdominal cavity, the other in direct contact with organs: between these two layers lies a normally empty cavity. Peritonitis is often linked to the infection of these organs, which spreads to the peritoneum after the rupturing of the latter. Indeed, if a perforated organ contains bacteria, they can also attack the peritoneum and cause an infection. Untreated appendicitis or perforated ulcers are common causes of peritonitis.


In the typical form of acute peritonitis, severe abdominal pain, localized or extended immediately to the entire abdomen, are amongst the first signs. If the pain is localized, its original location may point to the cause, and its spreading is usually quick. Often vomiting is present, and intestinal transit stops. Finally, fever and chills mark the presence of infection. Other signs are frequently present at the time of diagnosis and are not specific to peritonitis, but they indicate the severe impact on and suffering of the body, including malaise, accelerated heartbeat, lowered blood pressure...


The diagnosis of peritonitis is suspected in the presence of the signs described by the patient and their circumstances. In addition, palpation of the abdomen generally shows an indurated stomach, which is difficult to palpate without causing pain. Additional tests are then useful to confirm the diagnosis before surgical management, and an X-ray of the abdomen may be performed as well as a scan.


Peritonitis requires immediate hospitalization and surgery because if untreated, it can quickly lead to fatal complications. Before surgery, antibiotics are administered intravenously. Then, through an incision in the abdomen, the doctor will clean the entire abdominal cavity with a peritoneal wash and treat the cause of the disease (removal of the appendix, sew up an ulcer...). Antibiotic treatment adapted to infection is also given in addition to the operation. Antibiotics will then be continued until recovery is assured.

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