July 2006, Volume 36 Number 7 , p 56cc5 - 56cc6
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 ...