LOGO 2019

Stomach Bug or Something More? Spotting Appendicitis

By Kristy Warren

Cramps, nausea, bloating...is it just "the stomach bug" or something more? The early warning signs of appendicitis can easily be mistaken for other gastrointestinal issues like gas, indigestion, or a passing illness. Learn how to spot the early warning signs. 

What is appendicitis? 

Appendicitis is the inflammation of your appendix, a small tube of tissue connected to your large intestine. This inflammation is typically a result of a blockage in the appendix leading to a bacterial infection. This inflammation can be chronic (reoccurring and long-term) or acute (short and sudden). The real danger of appendicitis is when the blockage and infection cause the appendix to rupture or "burst," which spreads this bacteria throughout the body. Centralized belly pain near the navel and a low-grade fever are often the earliest symptoms of appendicitis.   

How common is appendicitis? 

One in 20 Americans develop appendicitis, typically between ages of 10 and 30, but appendicitis can strike at any age. Appendicitis can be triggered by infection, certain diseases like cancer, hard stools, swollen lymph nodes, and parasites.

Appendicitis symptoms:

  • Strong, sudden pain near the belly button and lower-right abdomen
  • Stomach pain that gets worse over time (a few hours)
  • Fever
  • Swollen, bloated belly that is tender to the touch
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty passing gas
  • Unusual bowel movements (constipation or diarrhea)
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain that worsens when you sneeze, cough, or breathe deeply

How to distinguish appendicitis from other ailments 

When it comes to belly pain, there are a lot of culprits, which can make it hard to distinguish the warning symptoms of acute or chronic appendicitis. Be on the lookout for abdominal pain that occurs suddenly, particularly around the belly button and in your lower right abdomen (where the appendix is typically located) or in combination with a low-grade fever. Another marker of appendicitis is pain that worsens in only a few hours and belly pain that begins before other common gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting or bowel issues. Some patients describe the abdominal pain associated with appendicitis as different from other types of stomach cramps, twinges or aches felt from other ailments. 

Diagnosis and treatment

To rule out other conditions, doctors often perform a physical exam and palpitate the abdomen (apply pressure) to see if pain worsens or if one area of the abdomen is more painful than another. They may also order urine, blood and imaging tests like a CT or MRI scan to pinpoint the source of the pain. 

If the doctor diagnoses appendicitis, the treatment is almost always the surgical removal of the appendix (appendectomy). This procedure can sometimes be done laparoscopically through a smaller incision to reduce recovery time, but the type of surgical procedure will depend on your health, body type, and the state of your appendix. If the appendix has already ruptured, additional measures must be taken to clean out the bacteria to avoid further infection or complication, which may include draining an abscess prior to surgery. 

Need to have your appendix out? You won't even miss it. The appendix no longer seems to serve any bodily function. 

What to do if you suspect it's appendicitis

Appendicitis can be deadly if the infected appendix ruptures and the bacteria spreads, so it is important to seek medical care promptly. If you suspect acute appendicitis, go to an emergency room. If you have been experiencing symptoms on and off or that are worsening over time, discuss your symptoms in-depth with your family doctor to determine if you may have chronic appendicitis. Need a family doctor? Call us at 1-833-LAURELHC and make an appointment at the health center of your choice.

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