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Signs of appendicitis you shouldn’t ignore

September 24, 2021

General Surgery Emergency Primary Care
Woman sitting on a sofa and touching her stomach

Appendicitis is one of the most common causes of sudden and severe abdominal pain, according to the National Institutes for Health . While most signs of appendicitis do include that telltale sudden and severe pain, it’s important to know that there are other symptoms. 

“Appendicitis can sometimes start with mild or moderate symptoms that are easy to confuse with stomach upset,” says T. James Hamdani, M.D., with Riverside Surgical Specialists. “Knowing how to recognize the signs of appendicitis can help you or a loved one get the immediate care you need.

“After all, appendicitis is a medical emergency,” he finishes.

Dr. Hamdani shares background about appendicitis, including how to recognize it and how it’s treated.

What is appendicitis?

Appendicitis is the inflammation of the appendix. Your appendix is a finger-shaped pouch about four inches long found in the lower right side of your abdomen. There is no clear function of this small organ. 

“Researchers still aren’t sure what the appendix does,” explains Dr. Hamdani. “Some experts believe it stores good bacteria and some think it’s just part of our evolutionary past. We continue to work to better understand the role of the appendix in the gastrointestinal tract.” 

Anyone can develop appendicitis, but it’s most common in younger individuals between ages 10 and 30 years old.

Signs of appendicitis 

You should not ignore symptoms of appendicitis. “It’s is a very treatable condition, but left unchecked, appendicitis can lead to serious health complications, like a ruptured appendix and infection,” Dr. Hamdani says.

Common symptoms of appendicitis include:

  • Sudden pain on the right side of the lower abdomen
  • Sudden pain around the navel (often shifting to the lower right)
  • Pain that worsens with movement
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low-grade fever
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Gas 

Diagnosing appendicitis

Your doctor will do a complete physical exam to help assess your symptoms and condition. You may have additional tests and procedures to confirm an appendicitis diagnosis, including:

  • Blood test to check for high white blood cell counts, which can suggest an infection
  • Urinalysis to rule out kidney stones
  • Imaging tests to confirm appendicitis and rule out other conditions

Treating appendicitis

If you do have appendicitis, you will likely be referred for surgery.

“The most common treatment is surgery to remove your appendix, called an appendectomy,” says Dr. Hamdani. “This safe and routine procedure will help prevent further complications from developing.”

The two types of surgery to remove the appendix are laparotomy or laparoscopic surgery. Laparotomy is an open surgery. During the procedure, your surgeon will make one incision on your abdomen about 2 to 4 inches long. Then, they will carefully remove the appendix through the open incision.

A laparoscopic surgery is minimally invasive. Your surgeon will make a few small incisions in your abdomen. Then, they will insert special surgical equipment including a thin, flexible and hollow tube that allows tools to pass through it. The tube also has a small video camera attached to the end to guide the procedure. The appendix is removed through the tube. Your surgeon will discuss which approach is best to treat your appendicitis. 

You may also be prescribed antibiotics before or after surgery to help fight infection.

Don’t wait for the care you need

Appendicitis can be a serious condition. Call your doctor immediately if you or a loved one are experiencing any troubling signs of appendicitis. Your doctor may recommend you go to the nearest emergency department for testing, based on your symptoms.

Find a doctor near you. If you or a loved one need immediate medical care for severe abdominal pain, find the emergency department nearest you.

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