Appendicitis

About appendicitis

Your appendix is a small pouch attached to the end of your large bowel. It's found in the lower right-hand side of your abdomen (tummy). The appendix isn't thought to have any known function in humans.

Sometimes, your appendix can become inflamed – this is known as appendicitis. If you have appendicitis, you will need surgery to remove your appendix. This operation is called an appendicectomy.

Appendicitis is most common in people aged between 10 and 20, but you can get it at any age. Men are slightly more likely to get appendicitis than women.

In England, more than 40,000 people get appendicitis each year. It's the most common cause for emergency abdominal surgery.

Symptoms of appendicitis

Symptoms of appendicitis include:

  • pain in your abdomen – this may start in the centre and then move to the lower right-hand side
  • a high temperature
  • feeling sick or vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • constipation or diarrhoea

These symptoms aren't always due to appendicitis, but if you have them, see your GP.

If you have appendicitis while you're pregnant, your symptoms may be different from those listed above. For example, the pain in your abdomen may be higher up than it usually is for appendicitis. It's important that you see your GP if you're concerned about your symptoms.

Complications of appendicitis

If appendicitis isn't treated quickly, your appendix can burst (perforate), causing problems such as a severe abdominal infection (peritonitis).

Causes of appendicitis

The exact reasons why you may develop appendicitis aren't fully understood. It's thought that it may be caused by a blockage (obstruction), which causes the pressure to rise within your appendix and makes inflammation more likely. Your diet may also play a part – studies have shown that appendicitis is less common in people who eat a diet high in fibre.

Diagnosis of appendicitis

Your GP will ask you about your symptoms and examine you. He or she will usually feel your abdomen to find out where the painful areas are. He or she may also ask you about your medical history.

If your GP thinks you have appendicitis, you will need to go to hospital. There is no single test used to diagnose appendicitis. However, to help make a diagnosis, your GP or doctor in hospital may do some tests including:

  • urine tests
  • blood tests
  • an ultrasound scan
  • a CT scan
  • for women, a pregnancy test, to check that your symptoms aren't being caused because you're pregnant

Treatment of appendicitis

Doctors at the hospital will review your symptoms and test results. If they think your symptoms are likely to be due to appendicitis, you will need to have your appendix removed in an operation called an appendicectomy. The operation is done under general anaesthesia, which means you will be asleep during the operation. It's usually done using keyhole surgery (laparoscopy), but can also be done as open surgery.

It's possible that once your appendix has been removed and your surgeon has examined it, you will find out that the cause of your symptoms wasn't appendicitis after all. However, because of the risks of complications if treatment for appendicitis is delayed, the benefits of having the surgery outweigh the risks or inconvenience.

How do I know if my child has appendicitis?

Answer

If your child is complaining of abdominal (tummy) pains, has a high temperature and/or is vomiting then you should get him or her seen by a doctor as soon as possible.

Explanation

In children, the first symptom of appendicitis is often abdominal pain. The pain may start around his or her belly button and then move to the right side of the lower abdomen. The other symptoms of appendicitis can include a high temperature, vomiting and a loss of appetite.

If you're concerned about your child's symptoms, it's important that you seek medical advice.

If appendicitis isn't treated, your child's appendix may burst and this can lead to abdominal infection (peritonitis), which can develop quickly in young children and is a medical emergency.

Are all right-sided lower abdominal pains appendicitis?

Answer

No, right-sided abdominal pain isn't always due to appendicitis.

Explanation

Appendicitis is a common cause of acute abdominal pain. However, there are many reasons why you may have abdominal pain on your right side. In children, it may be caused by conditions such as constipation, a urinary tract infection or gastroenteritis. In women, pain may be caused by their reproductive organs or be due to pregnancy. Women will usually be asked to have a pregnancy test to rule this out.

Sometimes, there may be no reason found for your abdominal pain and it may go away on its own. This is called non-specific abdominal pain.

Are children more likely to get appendicitis than adults?

Answer

Appendicitis is most common in teenagers and young adults, but it can affect anyone.

Explanation

Appendicitis can affect people of any age. However, it's most common in people in their late teenage years and early twenties, and less common in older people. If you or your child have symptoms of appendicitis, including pain in your abdomen, a high temperature, feeling sick and/or loss of appetite, contact your GP.