Skip to Main Content


  • Intra-abdominal infections are those contained within the peritoneum or retroperitoneal space. Two general types of intra-abdominal infections are discussed throughout this chapter: peritonitis and abscess.

  • Peritonitis is defined as the acute, inflammatory response of peritoneal lining to microorganisms, chemicals, irradiation, or foreign body injury. It may be classified as either primary, secondary, or tertiary. With primary peritonitis, an intra-abdominal focus of disease may not be evident. In secondary peritonitis, a focal disease process is evident within the abdomen. Tertiary peritonitis occurs in critically ill patients and is infection that persists or recurs at least 48 hours after apparently adequate management of primary or secondary peritonitis.

  • An abscess is a purulent collection of fluid separated from surrounding tissue by a wall consisting of inflammatory cells and adjacent organs. It usually contains necrotic debris, bacteria, and inflammatory cells.


  • Table 43-1 summarizes many of the potential causes of bacterial peritonitis. Appendicitis is the most common cause of intra-abdominal infection. Intra-abdominal infection results from entry of bacteria into the peritoneal or retroperitoneal spaces or from bacterial collections within intra-abdominal organs. When peritonitis results from peritoneal dialysis, skin surface flora are introduced via the peritoneal catheter.

  • In primary peritonitis, bacteria may enter the abdomen via the bloodstream or the lymphatic system, by transmigration through the bowel wall, through an indwelling peritoneal dialysis catheter, or via the fallopian tubes in female patients.

  • In secondary peritonitis, bacteria most often enter the peritoneum or retroperitoneum as a result of disruption of the integrity of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract caused by diseases or traumatic injuries.

  • When bacteria become dispersed throughout the peritoneum, the inflammatory process involves the majority of the peritoneal lining. Fluid and protein shift into the abdomen (called “third spacing”) may decrease circulating blood volume and cause shock.

  • Peritonitis often results in death because of the effects on major organ systems. Fluid shifts, cytokines, and microorganism toxins may result in hypovolemia, hypoperfusion, and shock.

  • An abscess begins by the combined action of inflammatory cells (eg, neutrophils), bacteria, fibrin, and other inflammatory components. Within the abscess, oxygen tension is low, and anaerobic bacteria thrive.

TABLE 43-1Causes of Bacterial Peritonitis


  • Primary bacterial peritonitis is often caused ...

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.