Appendix inflammation can lead to emergency condition

The appendix is a small, finger-like pouch that extends from the large intestine on the lower right side of the abdomen. While it has no specific function, it can sometimes become inflamed (swollen and irritated) due to a blockage, such as by stool (bowel), or due to an infection. In some cases, a tumor may be causing the blockage. Inflammation of the appendix is called appendicitis, an emergency condition requiring immediate medical attention. If the condition goes untreated, the appendix can rupture or burst, allowing infection to spread throughout the abdomen and leading to a life-threatening condition called peritonitis.

Symptoms and diagnosis of appendicitis

The first sign of appendicitis is often a dull pain around the belly button that typically moves to the lower right abdomen, becoming a sharp pain within 12 to 24 hours after it first started. Other symptoms may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Fever
  • Severe cramps

Because the symptoms of appendicitis are similar to those of other conditions, such as Crohn's disease, gastritis and urinary tract infections, it’s not always easy to diagnose. Your doctor will begin with a physical examination. People with appendicitis often feel immediate pain when pressure is applied on the lower right abdomen. Additional testing may include blood and urine tests, as well as a CT scan and ultrasound. When appendicitis is present, a blood test will often show a high white blood cell count (the body’s way of fighting infection). The urine test is to rule out urinary tract infection while CT can determine if there is an abscess (pus-filled mass). If an abscess is found, you may be given antibiotics to fight infection.

Common treatment for appendicitis is an emergency appendectomy, or surgical removal of the appendix.

If you have symptoms that are concerning you, be sure to talk to your doctor.

To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.