Anyone who has a child knows they get stomach aches often. From holding their urine and bowel movements to eating too many bowls of ice cream, one of the most common childhood complaints is an upset tummy. And while there are numerous causes for nausea and abdominal pain, one possible cause is appendicitis. Yes, an inflamed appendix can cause a wide range of symptoms — and parents should be mindful of these things. Why? Because appendicitis is common. It affects 1 out of every 1,000 people living in the U.S. And because (if left untreated) appendicitis can be serious — even life-threatening.
Here’s everything you should know about appendicitis, from what it is to the most common signs and symptoms.
What is appendicitis?
According to the Mayo Clinic, “appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix, a finger-shaped pouch that projects from your colon on the lower right side of your abdomen.”
How common is it, specifically in children?
While appendicitis is common — approximately 70,000 children in the United States suffer from it every year — the condition frequently affects those between 10 and 19 years old. Appendicitis is rare in infants but can occur.
That said, children of any age can develop appendicitis. My daughter was seven when she suffered an acute attack.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of appendicitis vary from person to person, and case to case. However, according to Kids Health “the first signs of appendicitis are often a mild fever and pain around the belly button.”
“Appendicitis pain may start off as mild cramping,” an article on Healthline elaborates. “It often becomes more steady and severe over time.”
Of course, there are other symptoms. Gastrointestinal distress is common, i.e. your child may experience nausea, diarrhea or vomiting. A loss of appetite may also occur, and both indigestion and fever are an indicator something is wrong.
“If pain spreads across the belly, it may mean the appendix has burst,” Kids Health explains. “Doctors call this ruptured appendicitis, and it’s serious. A high fever reaching 104°F (40°C) is another sign of a burst appendix.”
How is appendicitis diagnosed?
Appendicitis is tricky to diagnose. After all, the symptoms of appendicitis mimic several other conditions, including stomach bugs and kidney stones. For this reason, doctors usually enlist a multistep process.
“To find out if a child has appendicitis, a doctor will examine the belly for signs of pain and tenderness,” Kids Health explains. “The doctor will [also] order blood tests and urine tests, and some kids also get an X-ray of the abdomen and chest, an ultrasound, or a CAT scan.”
How is appendicitis treated?
There is only one way to treat appendicitis. In order to alleviate symptoms, the infected organ must be removed with a surgery called an appendectomy. Most of the time, surgeons will use a laparoscope to remove the appendix via a small incision on the abdomen. Typically the hospital stay is only one day.
However, in some cases, traditional methods may be used: i.e. a surgeon may make an incision on the lower right side of the stomach. Children may also experience prolonged hospital stays, particularly if the appendix ruptured prior to removal.
What potential side effects can occur?
While appendectomies are considered a routine procedure — nearly 300,000 are performed each year — complications can arise. Some individuals will have a post-appendectomy abscess. Others may experience infections, and according to the Cleveland Clinic, bowel obstructions are also possible. However, the greatest risk isn’t during surgery; it is prior. Left untreated, appendicitis can have dangerous or possibly life-threatening effects.
“If an infected appendix isn’t removed, it has the potential to burst about 48 to 72 hours after symptoms first start,” Kids Health explains. “This can spread bacteria inside the body. The infection might form a large collection of pus (an abscess) or spread throughout the belly.”
“Bacterial infections can also affect other organs in your abdomen,” an article on Healthline adds. “For example, bacteria from a ruptured abscess or appendix may enter your bladder or colon. It may also travel through your bloodstream to other parts of your body.” For this reason, it is essential you treat appendicitis as soon as possible.
You should also trust your gut. Call your doctor right away if you think your child has appendicitis. The sooner it’s caught, the easier it will be to treat.
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