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Appendicitis

What Is Appendicitis?

The appendix is a small organ attached to the large intestine in the lower right side of the belly. When it gets infected, it's called appendicitis.

Appendicitis is an emergency. It's important to know what to look for and get medical care right away.

The appendix is a small, finger-shaped tube connected to the large intestine. It is in the lower belly, near where the large and small intestines join up.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Appendicitis?

The first signs of appendicitis are often a mild fever and pain around the belly button. It might seem like just a stomachache. But with appendicitis, the pain usually gets worse and moves to the lower right side of the belly.

If you have belly pain, be on the lookout for these signs of appendicitis: 

  • strong pain, mainly around the belly button or in the lower right part of the belly (the pain might come and go at first, then grow steady and intense)
  • low-grade fever
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea (feeling sick) and vomiting (throwing up)
  • diarrhea (especially small amounts, with mucus)
  • swollen belly

If pain spreads across the belly, it may mean the appendix has burst. Doctors call this ruptured appendicitis, and it's serious. A high fever reaching 104°F (40°C) is another sign of a burst appendix.

Call your doctor right away if you think you might have appendicitis. The sooner it's caught, the easier it will be to treat.

What Problems Can Happen?

If an infected appendix isn't removed, it has the potential to burst about 48 to 72 hours after symptoms first start. This can spread bacteria inside the body. The infection might form a large collection of pus (an abscess) or spread throughout the belly.

Who Gets Appendicitis?

Appendicitis mostly affects kids and teens between 5 and 20 years old.

What Causes Appendicitis?

When the appendix gets blocked, too much bacteria can grow and cause an infection. Some of the things that might block the appendix are:

  • hard, rock-like stool (poop)
  • swollen lymph nodes in the intestines
  • parasites and other infections

Appendicitis is not contagious. You can't catch it from someone who has it.

How Is Appendicitis Diagnosed?

The symptoms of appendicitis can be a lot like those of other medical problems (like kidney stones, pneumonia, or a urinary tract infection). So it can be a challenge for doctors to diagnose.

To find out if someone has appendicitis, a doctor will examine the belly for signs of pain and tenderness. The doctor will order blood tests and urine tests. Some teens also get an X-ray of the abdomen and chest, an ultrasound, or a CAT scan.

The medical team may tell you not to give your child any food or drink. This is in case your child needs surgery.

How Is Appendicitis Treated?

A surgeon will operate to take out the infected appendix. This is called an appendectomy. Most of the time, surgeons use a small device called a laparoscope to remove the appendix through a small cut on the belly. Teens who get this surgery usually stay in the hospital for a day.

The care team may give you intravenous (IV) fluids and antibiotics before and after surgery. This helps prevent problems such as an infection. You'll also get pain medicine if you need it.

Someone who had a burst appendix might need to stay in the hospital longer after an appendectomy. That gives the antibiotics time to kill any bacteria that spread into the body.

What if I Think I Have Appendicitis?

Get help from your doctor right away if you suspect that you have appendicitis, because this is a surgical emergency. Quick treatment of appendicitis can help prevent complications and get you back on your feet.

Reviewed by: Ryan J. Brogan, DO
Date Reviewed: 02-07-2018

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