Peritonitis is inflammation (often due to infection) of the peritoneum, which is a two-layered serous membrane covering both the surfaces of the organs that lie in the abdominal cavity and the inner surface of the abdominal cavity itself. Since it is frequently life-threatening, acute peritonitis is a medical emergency. The prognosis for untreated peritonitis is very poor.
A major cause of bacterial peritonitis is internal perforation of the gastrointestinal tract, contaminating the abdominal cavity with gastric contents and gut flora, the bacteria that live in the digestive tract. Perforation may result as a complication of an intestinal foreign body, colonic diverticulum, or a ruptured appendix, a possible consequence of untreated acute appendicitis. The possibility of peritonitis is the reason why acute appendicitis warrants fast treatment (generally, appendectomy), and other possible causes equally require laparotomy for inspection and treatment.
It can also be caused by inserting foreign objects into the anus.
Signs and symptoms
Patients with peritonitis are frequently in great pain and may present in the fetal position with knees drawn up (this position reduces tension on abdominal muscles by compressing them). Since movement is painful, the abdomen is usually tender, and these patients may hold very still. The abdominal wall is usually rigid (Genuit and Napolitano, 2004). Pain may be localized or diffuse (Genuit and Napolitano, 2004). Patients may have nausea, vomiting, and fever (All Refer Health).