Peritonitis is an infection of the inner lining of the tummy. Left untreated it can become life-threatening.

Causes of peritonitis

The lining of the tummy (peritoneum) covers internal organs like the kidneys, liver and bowel. If the lining becomes infected the internal organs it covers can also be damaged.

This most often happens because of things like:

Rarely if bacteria gets into peritoneal dialysis equipment used to treat people with kidney failure, this can cause infection.

Get an urgent GP appointment or go to A&E if you have:

  • sudden tummy pain that gets worse when touched or you move
  • a very high temperature (you feel hot and shivery)
  • rapid heartbeat (your heart is beating more quickly than normal)
  • not been able to pee or are peeing much less than normal

You might also have:

  • lack of appetite and are feeling or being sick
  • a swollen tummy

Serious complications like sepsis can happen if the infection spreads.

Treatment for peritonitis

If you’re diagnosed with peritonitis you’ll need treatment in hospital to get rid of the infection. This might take 10 to 14 days.

Treatment usually involves being given antibiotics into a vein (intravenously).

If your peritonitis was caused by kidney dialysis treatment, antibiotics may be injected directly into the stomach lining.

If you have regular kidney dialysis your doctor might discuss a different way of doing it until the peritonitis has been treated.

Help with eating during treatment

It can be hard to digest food if you have peritonitis. A feeding tube might be passed into your stomach through your nose or placed inside your stomach using keyhole surgery.

If a feeding tube can’t be used liquid nutrients can be given directly into one of your veins.

Surgery for peritonitis

If part of the stomach lining has been seriously damaged by infection you may need surgery to remove it.

Sometimes pus-filled swellings (abscesses) develop in the lining and need to be drained with a needle under local anaesthetic.

You might also need an operation to deal with the cause of the peritonitis. For example, a burst appendix will need to be removed.