What is peritonitis? What causes peritonitis?

Peritonitis refers to the bacterial infection of the peritoneum, a soft tissue that covers abdominal organs. Immediate medical attention is required to treat this serious infection.

Now, let's look at the two different types of peritonitis.

Spontaneous peritonitis: The fluid within the peritoneal cavity is affected in this type of peritonitis. Liver/ kidney failure is the root cause of this type of peritonitis. Thus those who are under peritoneal dialysis are at high risk for peritonitis.

Secondary peritonitis: If it is the infection in the digestive tract that led to peritonitis, the condition is termed as secondary peritonitis.


Depending on the underlying cause of peritonitis, the symptoms vary.

  • Abdominal tenderness or pain
  • Bloating
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Passing lesser amount of urine
  • Breathing problem
  • No appetite
  • Extreme thirst
  • Constipation

Symptoms of peritonitis caused by peritoneal dialysis include cloudy dialysis fluid and a considerable amount of white flecks, strands or clumps in the dialysis fluid.

How is peritonitis diagnosed?

A detailed medical history, thorough physical examination and a few tests are needed to diagnose peritonitis. If you are undergoing peritoneal dialysis and your dialysis fluid looks cloudy, doctors would diagnose spontaneous peritonitis. In order to identify the underlying cause of the infection, doctors may suggest the following tests.

Peritoneal fluid analysis: Sample of the fluid will be taken out for analysis using a thin needle. High white blood cell count indicates infection in the fluid.

Blood tests: Blood tests are conducted to check for a high white blood cell count, an indicator of infection. A blood culture may also be followed to find out the infection in the blood.

Imaging tests: Imaging techniques such as X-ray, ultrasound scan or computerized tomography (CT) scans are used to identify the internal damage of the organs in the abdominal region.


As the risk of complications associated with secondary peritonitis is high, it is better to get hospitalized. The treatment for this includes a course of antibiotics to prevent the spread of infection or a surgery to remove the infected tissue. Treatment procedures vary depending on the severity of the infection. If you are taking peritoneal dialysis, your doctor may suggest an alternate way to receive dialysis until your internal organs recover from the infection.


Those who receive peritoneal dialysis should follow the preventive measures below, since there is a high risk for peritonitis in them.

  • Make sure that your fingers are clean before touching the catheter.
  • Use an antiseptic to clean the skin near the catheter.
  • Make sure that the supplies are stored in a sanitary area.