Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix.
The appendix is a small, tube-like structure that’s attached to the large intestine.
The main symptom of appendicitis is stomach pain.
Appendicitis pain usually starts in the middle of the stomach around the belly button. It might feel like a dull cramp. Over the next few hours, the pain becomes sharper. Sometimes the pain can shift from being all over the stomach to the lower right side of the stomach, over the appendix.
Your child might be more uncomfortable when they’re trying to sit upright or walk straight. The pain will often get worse when your child moves.
Your child might also have fever, vomiting, diarrhoea and no appetite.
The symptoms of appendicitis aren’t as clear in young children as in teenagers or adults. You might not even know that a young child has stomach pain. You know your child best. If your child doesn’t seem well, trust your instincts and seek medical attention.
Does your child need to see a doctor about appendicitis pain?
Yes. If your child has tummy pain that’s getting worse, take your child to the GP or hospital emergency department.
If your child is extremely unwell and even a small amount of movement causes pain, take your child to a hospital emergency department straight away. You might need to call an ambulance in this situation – phone 000.
There’s a risk of the inflamed appendix bursting and releasing pus into the abdomen. This is called a ruptured appendix. It isn’t very common, but without treatment it can be very serious.
Doctors can often diagnose appendicitis by carefully examining your child and taking your child’s medical history.
But appendicitis can sometimes be difficult to diagnose. If doctors aren’t sure what’s causing your child’s symptoms, they might order a blood test to see whether there’s infection or inflammation somewhere in your child’s body. They might also order a urine test to rule out a urinary tract infection.
Doctors might also order an abdominal ultrasound.
Treatment for appendicitis
Surgery to remove the inflamed appendix is the only treatment for appendicitis.
There are 2 kinds of surgery to take out an appendix:
- Keyhole surgery (laparoscopy) is where a camera and special instruments are inserted through three small cuts in different parts of your child’s abdomen.
- Open surgery is where a single, larger cut is made in your child’s abdomen.
The appendix doesn’t seem to have a role in digestion, so your child won’t have any problems if it’s taken out.
Causes of appendicitis
We don’t know what causes appendicitis. One theory is that if food or poo gets stuck in the appendix, it can cause a blockage, which can then get infected with bacteria.
We also don’t really know why we have an appendix or what it’s supposed to do in our bodies. It might just be a body part left over from human evolution.