Dear Alice,

What are the symptoms for appendicitis?

Dear Reader,

Although the appendix (which is attached to the colon) doesn't have a clear purpose and goes mostly unnoticed, it's clear when it's time for it to come out. Appendicitis, or the inflammation of the appendix, occurs when there's a blockage in the lining the appendix. Symptoms vary throughout the duration of the condition and from person-to person (more on those in a bit). Treatment usually involves surgery, although some cases may be treated with antibiotics. In either case, most people fully recover in a matter of weeks. If any appendicitis-like symptoms are present, it's critical to seek out medical attention as it can be life-threatening.

When there is a blockage inside the appendix, it causes the organ to become infected and inflamed. The pain associated with the condition commonly originates in the belly button area and progresses in severity over time. About 12 to 24 hours after the illness starts, the pain shifts towards the lower right-hand side of the abdomen, just over the appendix. Other symptoms of appendicitis can also include:

  • Pain that worsens with movement
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Constipation, diarrhea, or bloating
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite

If left untreated, the condition may progress and the appendix can rupture. Interestingly, after a rupture, the pain may go away for a short time, but it typically returns with increased severity. Though the prognosis for those able to get treatment prior to a rupture is good, a burst appendix is a life-threatening condition. If and when any of these symptoms are present, seeking emergency care is critical. To determine whether appendicitis is the cause for these symptoms, a series of physical exams, blood tests, a urine test, or image tests, such as a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), may be performed.

Most treatment protocols call for antibiotics and surgery (called an appendectomy) to remove the appendix; if treated immediately, before the appendix bursts, most people recover quickly without any adverse health effects. Although surgery has been the standard form of treatment for decades, new evidence suggests that antibiotics alone may be enough in some cases. If surgery is the recommended treatment, it's most commonly done through a laparoscope. This instrument allows health care providers to make only a few small incisions and it generally facilitates faster recovery and less pain. Assuming no complications arise, most people are out of the hospital, resuming their everyday routines, and returning to a typical eating plan, within a few days to a couple of weeks. However, if the appendix does rupture, surgery is still performed, but complications, such as an abscess (a pus-filled pocket of infection), may occur. If an abscess is present, it must be drained (before or during the organ removal) and treated with antibiotics to address the infection.

Here’s hoping this has kept your curiosity on the subject from bursting at the seams!

Last updated Dec 20, 2019
Originally published Apr 08, 2005

Submit a new comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

The answer you entered for the CAPTCHA was not correct.