If not spotted early, appendicitis can be life-threatening. Here’s what you need to know about it including the symptoms that will alert you of the condition.
What it is Appendicitis is the swelling or inflammation of the appendix. The appendix is a small, tube-like tissue that's connected to the large intestine. “Appendicitis is a surgical emergency,” Dr. Jamie Isip-Cumpas, a pediatrician from Parkview Children’s Clinic in Makati, told SmartParenting.com.ph.
“Imagine a balloon about to pop. Once pressure build-up is too high, the appendix can rupture and wreak havoc in the abdomen,” said Dr. Faith Buenaventura-Alcazaren, a pediatrician at Perpetual Succor Hospital and Maternity in Marikina and Marikina Doctors Hospital and Medical Center.
“Appendicitis mostly affects kids and teens between 10 and 20 years old, and is rare in infants,” according to KidsHealth, the resource site of Nemours, a nonprofit pediatric health system. “It's one of the most common reasons for emergency abdominal surgery in kids.”
The condition is known to occur when something blocks the entrance of the appendix, like hard stools or inflamed lymph nodes in the intestine, according to the UK National Health System. The blockage then allows for bacteria to rapidly multiply and cause the appendix to swell up, become inflamed or be filled with pus, said Mayo Clinic. Overtime, the blockage will cause the appendix to rupture.
Symptoms The first sign of appendicitis is typically pain around the belly button or in the middle of your child’s tummy. The pain can be dull at first then becomes sharper as the pain moves to the lower right where the appendix is located.
“Patients usually experience pain that progressively intensifies, which usually brings them to the ER already,” said Dr. Buenaventura-Alcazaren. The pain can worsen if pressure is applied to the area and when the patient coughs, moves, or even takes deep breaths.
Other symptoms that can accompany the abdominal pain include:
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loss of appetite
nausea and vomiting
bloated or swollen abdomen
If left untreated, the swollen appendix can burst 24 to 72 hours after the symptoms begin, said KidsHealth. The pain will spread across the whole abdomen, and your child may experience very high fever.
The symptoms of appendicitis can vary per person and is similar to other conditions like gastroenteritis, irritable bowel syndrome, and bladder or urine infections, according to the NHS. Calling your child’s doctor immediately (or taking him to the emergency room) is vital so she can promptly diagnose your child. “Doctors do clinical examinations to make sure it is a case of appendicitis as opposed to other diagnoses that can also cause abdominal pain,” said Dr. Buenaventura-Alcazaren.
Treatment As previously mentioned, appendicitis is a medical emergency that requires surgery. “The focus of management is to avoid rupture through the timely surgical removal of the appendix, called an appendectomy,” said Dr. Buenaventura-Alcazaren. “To avoid sepsis or severe infection, doctors also administer appropriate antibiotics.”
If the appendix has ruptured and its contents have spilled into the abdominal cavity, the appendix will still be removed, but treatment will intensify which can require strong antibiotics, according to WebMD. An infection caused by burst appendix can be very serious. “It can form an abscess (an infection of pus) or spread throughout the abdomen (this type of infection is called peritonitis),” said KidsHealth. What to do “There's no guaranteed way of preventing appendicitis,” according to the NHS. Hence, awareness of its symptoms is crucial. “If your child is complaining of abdominal pain and has a poor appetite -- sometimes accompanied by fever or vomiting, you need to bring your child to the doctor to be examined immediately,” said Dr. Isip-Cumpas.