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Secondary bacterial peritonitis in cirrhosis: a retrospective study of clinical and analytical characteristics, diagnosis and management.

BACKGROUND & AIMS: Secondary bacterial peritonitis in cirrhotic patients is an uncommon entity that has been little reported. Our aim is to analyse the frequency, clinical characteristics, treatment and prognosis of patients with secondary peritonitis in comparison to those of patients with spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (SBP).

METHODS: Retrospective analysis of 24 cirrhotic patients with secondary peritonitis compared with 106 SBP episodes.

RESULTS: Secondary peritonitis represented 4.5% of all peritonitis in cirrhotic patients. Patients with secondary peritonitis showed a significantly more severe local inflammatory response than patients with SBP. Considering diagnosis of secondary peritonitis, the sensitivity of Runyon's criteria was 66.6% and specificity 89.7%, Runyon's criteria and/or polymicrobial ascitic fluid culture were present in 95.6%, and abdominal computed tomography was diagnostic in 85% of patients in whom diagnosis was confirmed by surgery or autopsy. Mortality during hospitalization was higher in patients with secondary peritonitis than in those with SBP (16/24, 66.6% vs. 28/106, 26.4%) (p<0.001). There was a trend to lower mortality in secondary peritonitis patients who underwent surgery (7/13, 53.8%) than in those who received medical treatment only (9/11, 81.8%) (p=0.21). Considering surgically treated patients, the time between diagnostic paracentesis and surgery was shorter in survivors than in non-survivors (3.2+/-2.4 vs. 7.2+/-6.1 days, p=0.31).

CONCLUSIONS: Secondary peritonitis is an infrequent complication in cirrhotic patients but mortality is high. A low threshold of suspicion on the basis of Runyon's criteria and microbiological data, together with an aggressive approach that includes prompt abdominal computed tomography and early surgical evaluation, could improve prognosis in these patients.

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