Appendicitis occurs when your appendix becomes inflamed, likely due to a blockage. It can cause symptoms like cramping or intense abdominal pain. Treatment typically involves antibiotics followed by surgery to remove your appendix.

In the United States, appendicitis is the most common cause of abdominal pain resulting in surgery.

The appendix is a small pouch attached to the intestine and is 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. If you think you may have appendicitis, it’s important to speak with a doctor as soon as possible, as it requires immediate medical attention.

There are 2 types of appendicitis:

Acute appendicitis

Acute appendicitis is severe and can begin suddenly. It’s most common in children and young adults between the ages of 10 and 30 years. Pain tends to develop and intensify quickly over the course of 24 hours.

It requires immediate medical treatment. If left untreated, it can cause your appendix to rupture. This can be a serious and even fatal complication.

Chronic appendicitis

Chronic appendicitis is less common and occurs in only about 1.5 percent of all people who have already had a case of acute appendicitis. The symptoms are typically mild and may disappear before reappearing again over a period of weeks, months, or even years.

This type of appendicitis can be challenging to identify and can often go undiagnosed until it develops into acute appendicitis.

Appendicitis pain often starts off as mild cramping in your belly button area or right lower 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:

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:

Appendicitis can affect anyone. However, some people may be more likely to develop this condition than others. Risk factors for appendicitis include:

  • Age: Appendicitis most often affects teenagers and people in their 20s, but it can occur at any age.
  • Sex: Appendicitis is more common in males than females.
  • Family history: People who have a family history of appendicitis are at heightened risk of developing it.

Appendicitis in pregnancy

Acute appendicitis is the most common non-obstetric emergency requiring surgery during pregnancy.

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.

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Appendicitis can cause serious complications if your appendix ruptures, as this cause fecal matter and bacteria to spill into your abdominal cavity. A ruptured appendix can lead to painful and potentially life threatening infections.

This includes:

  • Peritonitis: When the appendix bursts and bacteria spill into your abdominal cavity, the lining can become infected and inflamed. This is known as peritonitis. It can be very serious and even fatal. Treatment includes antibiotics and surgery to remove the appendix.
  • Abscesses: An abscess is a painful pocket of pus that forms around a burst appendix. These white blood cells are your body’s way of fighting the infection. The infection must be treated with antibiotics, and the abscess will need to be drained.
  • Sepsis: In rare cases, bacteria from a ruptured abscess may travel through your bloodstream to other parts of your body. Sepsis is a medical emergency. If you suspect you have sepsis, call 911 immediately.

To prevent or manage complications, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics, surgery, or other treatments. In some cases, you might develop side effects or complications from the treatment.

However, the risks associated with antibiotics and surgery are far less common and usually less serious than the potential complications of untreated appendicitis.

If a doctor suspects you might have appendicitis, they will begin by talking with 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.

There’s no single test available to diagnose appendicitis.

Depending on the results of your physical exam, a doctor may order 1 or more of the following tests to check for signs of appendicitis:

Blood tests

To check for signs of infection, a doctor may order a complete blood count (CBC).

They may also order a C-reactive protein test to determine whether there are other causes of abdominal inflammation, such as an autoimmune disorder.

Urine tests

Appendicitis can display similar symptoms to a urinary tract infection (UTI) or kidney stones. A doctor will typically run a urine test to rule out these conditions.

Pregnancy test

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 a 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.

Depending on the location of the ectopic pregnancy, a doctor may suggest treating the condition using medication or surgery.

Abdominal imaging tests

To check for inflammation of your appendix, a doctor may order imaging tests of your abdomen.

It can also help doctors identify other potential causes of your symptoms, such as:

In some cases, you may be asked to stop eating food for a short period before your test. A doctor can help you learn more about preparing for your test.

A doctor’s recommended treatment plan for appendicitis will most likely involve antibiotics followed by surgery to remove your appendix. This is known as an appendectomy.

Treatment may also include one or more of the following:

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

During an appendectomy, a doctor will remove your appendix. If it has burst, they will also clean out your abdominal cavity.

In some cases, a doctor may use laparoscopy to perform minimally invasive surgery. In other cases, they may have to use open surgery to remove your appendix.

Like any surgery, an appendectomy carries some risks. However, the risks of an appendectomy are smaller than the risks of untreated appendicitis.

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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.

Foods high in fiber include:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • lentils, split peas, beans, and other legumes
  • oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat, and other whole grains

A doctor may also suggest you 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
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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, a 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.

How can you tell the difference between appendicitis and digestive pain?

You can tell the difference between appendicitis and digestive pain based on the location. Appendicitis pain begins on the lower right-hand side of the abdomen, whereas digestive pain, or gas, occurs all over.

What can trigger appendicitis?

Appendicitis can be triggered if the appendix becomes blocked. This can be caused by various factors, such as a buildup of hardened stool, traumatic injury, or a tumor.

How do you know if you have appendicitis?

If you have appendicitis, you will typically experience severe pain in the lower right abdomen, which can worsen by walking or coughing. A doctor can send out for testing to confirm a diagnosis.

Appendicitis can occur when the appendix becomes blocked. This can cause inflammation and severe pain.

If left untreated, it can cause your appendix to rupture. This can be a serious and even fatal complication. You should seek immediate medical support if you are experiencing symptoms of appendicitis.

Treatment typically involves antibiotics followed by surgery to remove your appendix.

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