Stress and anxiety can’t directly cause appendicitis. But they may contribute to problems with your gastrointestinal system, which can sometimes lead to appendicitis or cause other types of abdominal pain.

Ever feel so stressed that you can feel it in your gut?

That’s actually quite typical, as abdominal pain is a common symptom of stress. Scientists continue to research the connection between the brain and the digestive system, but we do know that stress and stress-related disorders, like anxiety and depression, can affect our gut health.

So, can stress affect your appendix?

Your appendix is a small organ connected to your large intestine. Though it’s only 3 to 4 inches long, an inflamed appendix (appendicitis) can cause serious health problems. Left untreated, your appendix might rupture, which could be fatal.

Keep reading to learn if stress can cause appendicitis. We’ll also look at what else might be causing you abdominal pain and provide tips on preventing appendicitis.

Appendicitis symptoms

The hallmark symptom of appendicitis is a cramping pain in your lower right abdomen. But you may also experience:

  • loss of appetite
  • nausea and vomiting
  • fever
  • abdominal swelling
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • malaise

Symptoms usually come on quickly, within a span of 24 hours.

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The idea that stress may be linked to appendicitis has existed for several decades. A 1992 study of a group of people who had appendectomies (surgeries to remove their appendix) suggested a weak link between appendicitis and major stressful events, like a car accident or job loss.

The study also found a weak link between appendicitis and persistent and frequent goal frustration (short-term stressors) over 26 weeks.

But the study authors were clear that this did not suggest that stress caused appendicitis. They expressed the need for more research.

Stress and your gut

No research since then has been able to shed more light on whether stress can cause appendicitis. But we have learned a lot about stress and gastrointestinal (GI) health in general.

According to a 2017 review, stress can contribute to chronic visceral pain. This may be due to the gut-brain axis, a connection between your nervous and digestive systems. Researchers also suggest that early life stressors like abuse, poverty, or neglect can contribute to visceral pain.

Research has also linked stress to increased pain from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). According to a 2020 study, IBS may be a risk factor for appendicitis.

Stress and your immune system

Research also suggests that stress can affect your immune system. This makes you more susceptible to infection and inflammation, which can cause appendicitis.

Appendicitis is typically due to a blockage in your appendix. It’s not always clear what causes this blockage, but experts believe it could be:

  • hardened stool
  • intestinal parasites, like worms
  • enlarged tissue in your appendix wall
  • inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • tumors

This blockage leads to a buildup of bacteria, which causes inflammation.

It’s common to experience abdominal pain as a symptom of stress or stress-related conditions, like anxiety or depression.

Anxiety and stress can trigger your body to release the hormone cortisol. Among its many effects, cortisol can disrupt processes in your GI system. According to a 2021 research review, this can affect gut motility (movement through your gut) and the balance of microbes in your gut. These problems often result in pain.

What can feel like appendicitis?

While scientists have yet to find a causal link between stress and appendicitis, we know that stress and its related conditions can contribute to other types of abdominal pain. Here are some conditions linked to stress that can feel like appendicitis:

Learn more about other causes of lower right abdominal pain.

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While there’s no known causal link between stress and appendicitis, managing stress can still help your overall gut health. Evidence-based techniques to reduce stress include:

There’s no known way to prevent appendicitis. If you’re worried about how your gut health might affect your risk of appendicitis, you might consider eating a high fiber diet.

Research has not revealed a direct link between stress and appendicitis. But stress can affect your overall gut health, which may indirectly lead to problems with your appendix.

The link between your mood and your GI system is known as the brain-gut axis. Stress can contribute to the development or worsening of several GI conditions, some of which may feel like appendicitis.

Check with a doctor if you experience persistent abdominal pain and seek immediate medical attention for severe pain. Medical professionals can advise you as to whether it is appendicitis or another condition.