At first Miguel thought he had a "stomach virus" or
. His stomach hurt and he was throwing up. He wasn't
hungry at all. But the next day, instead of feeling better, he felt
worse. In addition to his other symptoms, he had a fever.
Miguel's dad called the doctor, who asked them to come in right
away. After examining Miguel, the doctor said they had done the
right thing by calling because Miguel, as it turned out, had
appendicitis and needed surgery.
What Is Appendicitis?
Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix. The appendix is
a tubular shaped piece of tissue, the size of a finger, that
connects to the large intestine at the lower right side of the
abdomen. The inside of the appendix forms a pouch that opens to the
Appendicitis can occur when the opening of the appendix to the
large intestine gets blocked. Blockage can be due to hard rock-like
stool, inflammation of lymph nodes in the intestines, or even
parasites. Once the appendix is blocked, it becomes inflamed and
bacteria can overgrow in it.
If the infected appendix is not removed, it can eventually burst
or rupture from the buildup of pressure. This may happen as soon as
48 to 72 hours after symptoms start. The infection from a ruptured
appendix is very serious - it can form an abscess (a walled-off
infection of pus) or spread throughout the abdomen.
Symptoms of Appendicitis
The classic symptoms of appendicitis are abdominal pain and
loss of appetite. Abdominal pain usually begins in the center of
the abdomen, around the area of the navel. Later, the pain may move
downward and to the right, to an area called McBurney's point,
which roughly corresponds to the location of the appendix.
After abdominal pain begins, a person with appendicitis may
develop a slight fever, have a loss of appetite, feel nauseated, or
vomit. The pain from appendicitis can become steadily worse. If
appendicitis isn't treated promptly, the infected appendix may
rupture and the infection may spread to other areas of the abdomen
and cause pain over the whole abdomen.
Of course, some of the symptoms of appendicitis can occur
in a variety of illnesses. That's why it's important that
you call your doctor to help make a diagnosis.
Development and Duration of Appendicitis
There is no specific incubation period (the time it takes for
symptoms to develop) for appendicitis. Once the appendicitis
symptoms appear, it can take as little as 48 to 72 hours for the
infected appendix to rupture. If the appendix ruptures, the
infection will likely spread to other areas of the abdomen,
increasing the risk of serious complications and making treatment
When to Call the Doctor
If you suspect that you have appendicitis, call a doctor
immediately. Appendicitis is an emergency that must be treated
surgically. It can't be treated at home.
To help make a diagnosis, your doctor will ask you about your
medical history and perform a physical exam. The doctor will
usually do some blood tests and may recommend X-rays, a CAT scan,
or an ultrasound examination. The doctor will decide whether you
Ask before taking any pain medications (such as acetaminophen or
ibuprofen) because your doctor will need to examine your abdomen
for signs of pain and tenderness. Don't take laxatives or use
enemas until your doctor sees you because these can cause the
appendix to rupture.
Also, if your doctor suspects you have appendicitis, you will
probably be asked to stop eating or drinking (an important
precaution when a person is possibly going to have
Appendicitis is treated with surgery to remove the infected
appendix. The operation is called an appendectomy. To prepare for
the surgery a person will receive
. Anesthesia puts a person in a deep sleep and prevents pain.
An appendectomy generally has few complications, with a hospital
stay of 1 to 3 days. However, if the infected appendix ruptures
before surgery, the person usually stays in the hospital longer to
receive antibiotics that will help kill bacteria that may have
spread to the abdominal cavity. Even if the appendix has not
ruptured, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics because they can
decrease the risk of infection after surgery.
After a few days of rest at home, a student can safely return to
If You Think You Have Appendicitis
The best thing you can do is to get help from your doctor right
away if you suspect that you have appendicitis. Prompt treatment of
appendicitis usually prevents complications and gets you back to
your regular routine faster.
Yamini Durani, MD
Date reviewed: May 2007
Originally reviewed by:
Philip Wolfson, MD
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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