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Treating Appendicitis: Comparing Surgery With Antibiotic Treatment

Appendicitis is when the appendix gets blocked and becomes infected. The appendix is a small organ attached to the large intestine in the lower right side of the belly.

Someone who has appendicitis needs treatment. Without it, they can become very sick. Usually, treating appendicitis means surgery, but sometimes kids with appendicitis have the option of surgery or antibiotics.

Your care team will talk with you about your child’s treatment options. This chart can help:

Things to ConsiderSurgeryAntibiotics Only
How is the treatment done?In the operating room, the child gets anesthesia and a dose or two of antibiotics. Then, the surgeon makes 1–3 small incisions in the belly and removes the appendix.The child is admitted to the hospital (for up to 1–2 days) and gets IV antibiotics until symptoms improve.
How long is the hospital stay?Most kids go home the same day after surgery. Some might stay 24–48 hours.Up to 1–2 days
What home care is needed?Care after surgery includes medicines for pain, rest, and slowly increasing your child’s diet and activities as they feel better. You’ll check the bandages and remove them. Showers are OK, but no soaking in the tub or swimming for about a week.

You’ll give your child antibiotics by mouth for 7 days.

How long before getting back to activities?Back to school in a few days. Back to all activities in 1–2 weeks.

Kids can do activities as they feel up to it. Usually they are back to all activities in a few days.

How fast will pain ease?Recovery after surgery can vary, but generally is 1–2 weeks.

Usually pain starts getting better in a day or two.

Will there be a scar?1–3 small scars on bellyNo
What problems can happen?Rarely, an infection in one of the incision sites or inside the belly can happen.

Some kids (about 2 or 3 out of 10) will still need surgery if the antibiotics didn't help.

Are there risks from surgery or anesthesia?Yes. Bleeding or infection can happen from surgery. Problems from anesthesia are possible.No. If the antibiotics help your child get better and surgery isn't needed, your child won't have the potential risks from surgery.
Can the antibiotics cause side effects?Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea from short-term antibiotics given before surgery are possible.Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are more likely because the child gets the antibiotics for a longer time.
Can appendicitis come back?No

Yes. Some kids (about 2 or 3 out of 10) might need their appendix removed later.

How long has the treatment been used?This original treatment has been used for more than 100 years.This newer treatment has been used for the last 5–10 years.

Reviewed by: Loren Berman, MD
Date Reviewed: Feb 1, 2024

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