Appendicitis happens when your appendix becomes inflamed, likely due to a blockage. It can cause symptoms like cramping or intense abdominal pain. Left untreated, appendicitis can cause your appendix to burst.
In the United States, appendicitis is the
The appendix is a small pouch attached to the intestine. It’s located in your lower-right abdomen. When your appendix becomes blocked, bacteria can multiply inside it. This can lead to the formation of pus and swelling, which can cause painful pressure in your abdomen. Appendicitis can also block blood flow.
If your appendix bursts, bacteria can spill into your abdominal cavity, which can be serious and sometimes fatal.
Acute appendicitis is a severe and sudden case of appendicitis. It’s most common in children and young adults between the ages
It requires immediate medical treatment. If left untreated, it can cause your appendix to rupture. This can be a serious and even fatal complication.
Acute appendicitis is more common than chronic appendicitis, occurring in about 7 to 9 percent of all Americans in their lifetime. Learn more about the similarities and differences between these conditions.
Chronic appendicitis is less common than acute appendicitis. It occurs in only about 1.5 percent of all people who have already had a case of chronic appendicitis.
In chronic cases of appendicitis, the symptoms may be relatively mild and are thought to usually occur following a case of acute appendicitis. Symptoms may disappear before reappearing again over a period of weeks, months, or even years.
This type of appendicitis can be challenging to diagnose. Sometimes it’s not diagnosed until it develops into acute appendicitis.
Chronic appendicitis can be dangerous. Get the information you need to recognize and treat this condition.
Appendicitis pain often starts off as mild cramping in your upper abdomen or bellybutton area that then moves to the lower right quadrant of your abdomen. This pain often:
- begins suddenly
- gets worse when you move or cough
- is so intense that it wakes you from sleep
- is severe and different from other abdominal pain you’ve experienced
- worsens within a few hours
Other symptoms of appendicitis may include:
Less commonly, you may experience bowel problems including:
Contact your doctor if you have tenderness in the right side of your abdomen along with any of other symptoms of appendicitis. Appendicitis can quickly become a medical emergency. Get the information you need to recognize this serious condition.
If your child develops symptoms of appendicitis, contact their doctor right away. Learn why it’s so important to get treatment.
In many cases, the exact cause of appendicitis is unknown. Experts believe it develops when part of the appendix becomes obstructed, or blocked.
Many things can potentially block your appendix, including:
Many other conditions can cause abdominal pain. Click here to read about other potential causes of pain in your lower right abdomen.
Appendicitis can affect anyone. But some people may be more likely to develop this condition than others. Risk factors for appendicitis include:
Appendicitis can cause serious complications if your appendix ruptures, which can cause fecal matter and bacteria to spill into your abdominal cavity. A ruptured appendix can lead to painful and potentially life threatening infections, including:
To prevent or manage complications, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, surgery, or other treatments. In some cases, you might develop side effects or complications from treatment.
However, the risks associated with antibiotics and surgery are far less common and usually less serious than the potential complications of untreated appendicitis.
When the appendix bursts and bacteria spill into your abdominal cavity, the lining of your abdominal cavity, or peritoneum, can become infected and inflamed. This is known as peritonitis. It can be very serious and even fatal.
Symptoms of peritonitis may include:
- fast heartbeat
- high fever
- shortness of breath or rapid breathing
- severe and continuous abdominal pain
Treatment includes antibiotics and surgery to remove the appendix.
An abscess is a painful pocket of pus that forms around a burst appendix. These white blood cells are your body’s way of attempting to fight the infection. The infection must be treated with antibiotics, and the abscess will need to be drained.
Drainage may occur during surgery. Otherwise, the abscess will be drained before surgery using a needle. You’ll be given anesthetics, and your doctor will use an ultrasound or CT scan imaging to guide the procedure.
In rare cases, bacteria from a ruptured abscess may travel through your bloodstream to other parts of your body. This extremely serious condition is known as sepsis. Symptoms of sepsis include:
- high or low temperature
- severe sleepiness
- shortness of breath
Sepsis is a medical emergency that causes death in 1 in 3 people, according to the Sepsis Alliance. If you suspect you have sepsis, call 911 immediately.
If your doctor suspects you might have appendicitis, they will talk to you about your symptoms and medical history. They’ll then perform a physical exam to check for tenderness in the lower right part of your abdomen and swelling or rigidity. They may also do a digital rectal exam.
Depending on the results of your physical exam, your doctor may order one or more tests to check for signs of appendicitis or rule out other potential causes of your symptoms.
There’s no single test available to diagnose appendicitis. If your doctor can’t identify any other causes of your symptoms, they may diagnose the cause as appendicitis.
To check for signs of infection, your doctor may order a complete blood count (CBC). To conduct this test, they will collect a sample of your blood and send it to a lab for analysis.
Appendicitis is often accompanied by bacterial infection. An infection in your urinary tract or other abdominal organs may also cause symptoms similar to those of appendicitis.
Your doctor may also order a C-reactive protein test to check if there are other causes for abdominal inflammation, such as an autoimmune disorder or other chronic condition.
Your doctor will collect a sample of your urine that will be examined in a lab.
Ectopic pregnancy can be mistaken for appendicitis. It happens when a fertilized egg implants itself in a fallopian tube, rather than the uterus. This can be a medical emergency.
If your doctor suspects you might have an ectopic pregnancy, they may perform a pregnancy test. To conduct this test, they will collect a sample of your urine or blood. They may also use a transvaginal ultrasound to learn where the fertilized egg has implanted.
To examine your reproductive organs, your doctor may perform a pelvic exam.
During this exam, they will visually inspect your vagina, vulva, and cervix. They will also manually inspect your uterus and ovaries. They may collect a sample of tissue for testing.
Abdominal imaging tests
To check for inflammation of your appendix, your doctor might order imaging tests of your abdomen. This can help check for signs of inflammation, an abscess, or other problems with your appendix.
It can also help doctors identify other potential causes of your symptoms, such as:
Your doctor may order one or more of the following imaging tests:
In some cases, you might need to stop eating food for a period of time before your test. Your doctor can help you learn how to prepare for it.
Chest imaging tests
Pneumonia in the lower right lobe of your lungs can also cause symptoms similar to appendicitis.
Compared to an ultrasound, a CT scan creates more detailed images of your organs. However, there are some health risks associated with radiation exposure from a CT scan, so it’s usually only recommended after an ultrasound and MRI.
CT scans can harm a developing fetus. If you’re of childbearing age, your doctor will offer a pregnancy test first.
Treatment may also include one or more of the following:
- needle drainage or surgery to drain an abscess before undergoing surgery, if your abscess has not ruptured
- pain relievers
- IV fluids
- liquid diet
In rare cases, mild appendicitis may get better with antibiotics alone. But in most cases, you will need surgery to remove your appendix.
What to expect during an appendectomy
Appendectomy is the surgery used to treat appendicitis. During this procedure, your doctor will remove your appendix. If your appendix has burst, they will also clean out your abdominal cavity.
Like any surgery, there are some risks associated with appendectomy. However, the risks of appendectomy are smaller than the risks of untreated appendicitis. Find out more about the potential risks and benefits of this surgery.
Contact your doctor right away if you experience symptoms of appendicitis. It’s a serious condition that requires medical treatment. And it’s not safe to rely on home remedies to treat it.
If you undergo surgery to remove your appendix, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics and pain relievers to support your recovery. In addition to taking medications as prescribed, it may help to:
- get lots of rest
- drink plenty of fluids
- go for a gentle walk each day
- avoid strenuous activity and lifting heavy objects until your doctor says it’s safe to do so
- keep your surgical incision sites clean and dry
In some cases, your doctor might encourage you to adjust your diet. If you’re feeling nauseous after surgery, it might help to eat bland foods such as toast and plain rice. If you’re constipated, it might help to take a fiber supplement.
The symptoms of appendicitis may be mistaken for routine discomfort from pregnancy. Pregnancy may also cause your appendix to shift upward in your abdomen, which can affect the location of appendicitis-related pain. This can make it harder to diagnose.
Delayed diagnosis and treatment may increase your risk of complications, including miscarriage.
There’s no sure way to prevent appendicitis. But you might be able to lower your risk of developing it by eating a fiber-rich diet. Although more research is needed on the potential role of diet, appendicitis is less common in countries where people eat high-fiber diets.
Foods that are high in fiber include:
- lentils, split peas, beans, and other legumes
- oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat, and other whole grains
Your doctor may also encourage you to take a fiber supplement.
Add fiber by
- sprinkling oat bran or wheat germ over breakfast cereals, yogurt, and salads
- cooking or baking with whole-wheat flour whenever possible
- swapping white rice for brown rice
- adding kidney beans or other legumes to salads
- eating fresh fruit for dessert
Your outlook and recovery time for appendicitis will depend on multiple factors, including:
- your overall health
- whether you develop complications from appendicitis or surgery
- the specific type of treatments you receive
If you have laparoscopic surgery to remove your appendix, you may be discharged from the hospital a few hours after you finish surgery or the next day.
If you have open surgery, you will likely need to spend more time in the hospital to recover afterward. Open surgery is more invasive than laparoscopic surgery and typically requires more follow-up care.
Before you leave the hospital, your healthcare professional can help you learn how to care for your incision sites. They may prescribe antibiotics or pain relievers to support your recovery process. They may also advise you to adjust your diet, avoid strenuous activity, or make other changes to your daily habits while you heal.
It may take several weeks for you to fully recover from appendicitis and surgery. If you develop complications, your recovery may take longer. Learn about some of the strategies you can use to promote a full recovery.