CRITICAL CARE: Understanding peritonitis: Find out how to respond appropriately to this potentially fatal disorder.

July 2006 
Volume 36  Number 7
Pages 56cc5 - 56cc6
  PDF Version Available!


An acute or chronic disorder, peritonitis is an inflammation of the peritoneum, the serous membrane that lines the abdominal cavity and covers the visceral organs. Such inflammation may extend throughout the peritoneum or be localized as an abscess. Peritonitis commonly decreases intestinal motility and causes intestinal distension with gas. Without treatment, it can lead to fatal bowel obstruction, sepsis, or multiple organ dysfunction syndrome. Here's what you need to know to assess patients for peritonitis and intervene appropriately.

How peritonitis develops

The gastrointestinal (GI) tract normally contains bacteria, but the peritoneum is sterile. Inflammation and perforation of the GI tract from appendicitis, diverticulitis, or a peptic ulcer lets bacteria invade the peritoneum, causing peritonitis. Chemical inflammation also can cause peritonitis. Possible causes include perforation of a gastric ulcer with gastric ...

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