Appendicitis is swelling and irritation of the appendix. The appendix is a small, finger-shaped pouch where the large and small intestines join. Scientists are not sure what the appendix does, but when it is inflamed, it gets swollen and painful and can cause serious problems.
It is important to get treatment for appendicitis before the appendix ruptures. A rupture is a break or tear in the appendix. If an infected appendix breaks open, it can cause a life-threatening infection of the belly.
Because of the risk of rupture, appendicitis is considered an emergency.
In most cases appendicitis is caused by a blockage of the opening of the appendix by a piece of bowel movement. Sometimes it is caused by infection in the digestive tract.
The symptoms can differ from child to child. They may include:
Children under 10 are less likely to have the usual symptoms of appendicitis. Because of this, they may not get treatment right away, which makes it more likely that the appendix will rupture. Appendicitis is most common between the ages of 10 and 30. If you think your child may have appendicitis and is about to see his healthcare provider, do not let him eat or drink anything before he is examined.
Your healthcare provider will ask about your child's symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Your child may have the following tests:
If the diagnosis is not clear, your child may be watched closely in the emergency room or hospital for 12 to 24 hours to see if surgery is needed.
If your provider does not hospitalize your child and sends your child home without surgery, your provider will tell you what symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them. Your provider will probably ask you to:
Appendicitis is usually treated with surgery to remove the appendix. It is important to have surgery quickly, before the appendix ruptures. People can live a normal life without an appendix.
Surgery to remove the appendix is done under general anesthesia, through either one cut in the lower right area of the belly or several small cuts. If your child’s appendix is removed before it ruptures, your child will usually feel much better in a couple of days.
If the appendix has ruptured, infection can spread through your child’s belly, which is dangerous. Your healthcare provider may put a drainage tube in your child’s belly to help the infection drain. Your child will stay in the hospital for several days after surgery to receive IV antibiotics and may need more than 1 surgery.
Treatment without surgery includes taking antibiotics to treat the infection. This treatment may be used if your child is not well enough for surgery or surgery is not available. Without treatment, appendicitis can be fatal.
Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your child’s healthcare provider. If an antibiotic has been prescribed, make sure that your child takes all of it according to instructions. Ask your child’s provider:
Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.