Signs and Symptoms of Appendicitis

man with appendicitis experiencing stomach pain

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Appendicitis occurs when you have inflammation in your appendix—a small tube-like pouch that is attached to your large intestine. When the appendix becomes blocked, swollen, or inflamed, the primary symptom you experience is abdominal pain. The pain usually begins near your belly button. Within hours, the pain can travel to the lower right abdomen and feel worse when you move, cough, or take a deep breath—and that's a sign that you should seek medical care as soon as possible.

In the United States, about 250,000 people receive a diagnosis for acute appendicitis every year. It can occur at any age but is most common in people between 10 to 30 years old. Because this condition is so common, it's helpful to know the symptoms so you can receive the care you need should you develop the condition.

Medical Emergency

It's important to note that appendicitis is a medical emergency and require immediate care. If your condition is left untreated, you may be at risk of a severe or potentially life-threatening infection. Don't wait if you start to notice symptoms. Call your healthcare provider or 911 immediately.

Abdominal Pain 

Abdominal (stomach) pain is often the first symptom of appendicitis. The pain usually starts around the belly button and moves to the lower right abdomen, where the appendix is located. Abdominal pain may begin as a dull ache and gradually become sharper and more intense over the next few hours or days.

For some, appendicitis pain comes on suddenly and the pain occurs only in the lower right abdomen. The pain may worsen when you walk, cough, or breathe deeply. Many people describe it as unlike any other abdominal pain they have felt before. 

Loss of Appetite 

Loss of appetite is one of the most common symptoms of appendicitis. When the appendix becomes inflamed, the body releases cytokines—proteins that your immune system produces in response to inflammation.

While cytokines are an important part of your body's immune response, they can also contribute to the loss of appetite many people with appendicitis experience. Appendicitis pain and discomfort can also make you feel too unwell to eat.

Nausea and Vomiting 

If you're experiencing appendicitis, you might feel nauseous or have the need to vomit. Generally, these symptoms can occur soon after the onset of abdominal pain. Most people who experience nausea and vomiting typically have mild episodes, which tend to pass quickly. Once nausea passes, you might experience excruciating pain in the lower right area of the abdomen.

Mild Fever 

A low-grade fever of 100 to 101 degrees Fahrenheit is common in people with appendicitis. Along with a fever, you can also experience chills. Fever is often mild when symptoms begin and can signify that the body is fighting off inflammation or an infection in the appendix.

If left untreated, appendicitis can progress and cause a fever higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit. If you notice an increased heart rate and more pain in your stomach, this could be a sign that your appendix has ruptured.

Bowel Problems 

Inflammation and swelling of the appendix can disrupt the normal functioning of the digestive system. As a result, you can experience bowel-related symptoms such as an inability to pass gas, a swollen stomach, constipation, diarrhea, or not being able to pass stool completely.

If the onset of your appendicitis symptoms is gradual, you might begin to feel gassy, bloated, or have indigestion a couple of days before severe abdominal pain.

Symptoms in Children

The signs and symptoms of appendicitis in children are similar to symptoms in adults. However, there are some slight differences worth noting. Common symptoms of appendicitis in children include:

  • Abdominal pain: Children might feel pain throughout the whole abdomen rather than just the lower right side. The pain becomes more severe over time and worsens during movement, such as walking, coughing, and jumping.
  • Behavior changes: Infants and young children unable to articulate their symptoms to you may become irritable. Children may also become lethargic and less active because any form of movement worsens the pain. 
  • Loss of appetite: Children with appendicitis may not want to eat or refuse to finish a meal once abdominal pain begins.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Vomiting is the most frequent symptom in children aged three and younger.
  • Bowel changes: Diarrhea is more common in children with appendicitis than in adults. 
  • Swelling: Children that are three years old or younger tend to have a swollen stomach that accompanies abdominal pain.

When to See a Healthcare Provider 

Appendicitis is a medical emergency that requires prompt treatment. If you or your child experience symptoms of appendicitis, seek immediate medical care. Delaying treatment can increase the risk of complications, including an appendix rupture, which can lead to a potentially life-threatening infection if left untreated.

Other conditions, such as urinary tract infections and stomach viruses, can cause symptoms similar to appendicitis. Your healthcare provider will perform a thorough examination to determine the cause of your symptoms and screen for related conditions. Your provider may choose to order imaging tests, such as an ultrasound or CT scan in order to make an accurate appendicitis diagnosis and figure out the treatment options that are right for you.

A Quick Review 

Appendicitis occurs when your appendix becomes inflamed. Common symptoms include abdominal pain that starts near the belly button and moves to the lower right abdomen. You can also experience a variety of other symptoms such as a loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, a low-grade fever, and changes in bowel movements, which may cause constipation or diarrhea.

Appendicitis is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention from a healthcare provider. If you begin to notice symptoms of appendicitis, don't wait to get the care you need. Reach out to your healthcare provider, visit the emergency department or urgent care, or call 911 as soon as possible. Delaying proper diagnosis and treatment can increase the risk of life-threatening complications.

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