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What Is Peritonitis?

Peritonitis is a bacterial or fungal infection that causes inflammation inside the abdomen. It gets its name from the abdominal lining, called the peritoneum. Peritonitis is easily treated with antibiotics when caught early—and can be prevented with antibiotics if you think you may have experienced contamination. Before you start peritoneal dialysis (PD), you’ll be trained specifically by your home dialysis nurse on how to avoid—or detect—an infection. By the end of your training, peritonitis prevention will simply be part of your routine.

Understanding peritonitis causes

Peritonitis most often starts when a PD catheter extension or cap is accidentally touched while the catheter is being connected for treatment. Bacteria that’s on your fingertips gets transferred to the catheter, where it can enter the peritoneum and cause an infection. Contamination is common and can happen easily. It’s important to tell your nurse immediately if you think you may have been contaminated by touching your catheter extension, dropping any of your supplies on the floor or forgetting to wear a mask. She or he can tell you how to protect your health.

Peritonitis can also occur when an exit site infection spreads to the catheter tunnel under the skin. Proper exit site care is important and checking your site daily can help you take action early if there are signs of infection.

Make clean rountine. Prevent peritonitis.

How can you prevent peritonitis?

You are the one who can best prevent peritonitis. To stay healthy, follow these tips:

  • Keep your PD catheter and exit site clean and dry.
  • Once your access site has healed, shower daily if possible.
  • Avoid swimming or tub baths unless approved by your doctor.
  • Always do all the steps for thorough handwashing or sanitizing.
  • Take care of your access site every day, using the instructions from your care team.
  • Put on a new mask every time you care for your access site.
  • Don’t let your uncapped catheter tip touch your skin or any other surface.
  • Keep the end of your catheter capped and clamped.
  • Check your catheter tunnel and exit site every day for redness, drainage, tenderness or swelling.
  • Ask your care team before putting powder, lotion or cream on your access site.

Remember, you're the most important member of your care team because you're the one who's most aware of your body and what's normal and healthy for you. if you think you missed any of the steps to proper care, call your nurse to learn what to do to avoid getting an infection. Catching peritonitis early is essential to your safety and avoiding hospitalization.

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What are the signs and symptoms of peritonitis?

Knowing the signs and symptoms of peritonitis will help you take action early on.
Here's what to look for:

  • Dialysis drain fluid that looks cloudy
  • An exit site that looks red, has pus, or is swelling or bulging
  • Pain or tenderness in your abdomen
  • Fever, nausea, or vomiting
  • Loss of appetite

Tip: Snap a photo of how your access site looks when it's healthy. If at any time you think it looks different, take a new photo and send both to your nurse. Comparing the 2 photos will help your nurse spot an infection.

Treatment for peritonitis

Peritonitis can be cured with antibiotics and taking early action is important. As soon as you think you may have contaminated your catheter or might have an infection, tell your nurse. The sooner you can be treated, the more effective you can be at keeping the infection from spreading.

Starting antibiotics within 2 hours of contamination is ideal. Your care team may give you dialysate that has antibiotics added to it for your next exchange—or you may be given antibiotic pills. You can trust your care team to know the best approach.
Don’t wait to call your nurse!
Tell your nurse right away if you may have contaminated your catheter, equipment or supplies—or if you think you may have an infection. The sooner you take antibiotics, the better.