Appendicitis is the most common abdominal surgical emergency in the U.S. Over 8 percent of men and 6 percent of women will suffer this condition during their lifetime, according to a report in the January 2015 issue of "American Family Physician." Appendicitis is a condition that causes the appendix, a small organ within the abdomen, to enlarge and fill with pus. If untreated, the appendix can burst and cause a serious, life-threatening infection. Although stomach pain is usually the first sign of appendicitis, there are several other symptoms that can signal this medical emergency.
Initially, people with appendicitis can experience a severe, aching pain in the upper abdomen or near the navel. Nausea and vomiting typically follow, and over the span of a few hours, this abdominal pain migrates to the lower right side of the abdomen. Pressing on the area may cause increased pain. This aching pain typically becomes sharper and more intense over a period of several hours, and the pain may increase in severity with movement, deep breaths, coughing or sneezing. A low-grade fever of 100 to 101 degrees Fahrenheit may accompany the pain.
Less Typical Symptoms
Classic appendicitis symptoms only occur in 50 percent of those affected, according to a September 2006 review published in "British Medical Journal." For example, infants and children are more likely to have widespread abdominal pain. When appendicitis affects older adults or pregnant women, the pain may not be as severe, and the abdomen may not be as tender to the touch. Children may appear withdrawn, and older adults may have the symptom of confusion, according to this review. Poor appetite, chills, feeling sick to the stomach and a swollen or bloated belly may accompany the abdominal pain.
Bowel movement changes can also be early signs of appendicitis. Certain people with this medical crisis may find it difficult to have a bowel movement or have trouble passing gas. Alternatively, some people may experience frequent runny or watery stools. Bowel movement difficulties may worsen discomfort and stomach symptoms in people with appendicitis.
If you have any symptoms of appendicitis, do not attempt home treatment as this will only delay essential medical care. Most often, appendicitis worsens without medical treatment. Seek medical care immediately if you have any signs of this condition, as a swollen appendix can burst within 2 to 3 days of the start of symptoms. This is a life-threatening complication that may be prevented by an early diagnosis. The usual treatment of appendicitis is surgical removal of the appendix, fluids by vein to treat dehydration, and antibiotics to treat the infection.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD