What is appendicitis?

Also known as: acute appendicitis, inflammation of the appendix, inflamed appendix.

The appendix is a finger-like blind-ended tube that arises at the junction of the small and large intestines in the abdomen. Appendicitis is a very common acute infection/inflammation of the appendix usually occurring in children (boys twice as commonly as girls) between the ages of 10-19 years (but can occur earlier or later).

What causes appendicitis? 

Most frequently appendicitis occurs when the opening of the appendix becomes blocked by either swollen lymphoid tissue (similar to the tissue of the tonsils) which increases in size for reasons still controversial (perhaps associated with a viral infection or dehydration) or by blockage by hard stool (fecalith) or rarely by foreign bodies like parasites or by scar like bands (strictures). There may be a genetic component to the inflammation as acute appendicitis seems to run in families.

If the appendix swells too much, the blood supply to it becomes cut off which causes the cells of the appendix to die. This results in holes developing (a rupture or a perforation). When this happens the appendix leaks its infected material into the belly and this is called peritonitis which can be life-threatening.


What are the symptoms of appendicitis? 

Common symptoms include sudden pain (that gets worse over time) that begins around the navel and then shifts to the right lower part of the abdomen; frequently the pain gets worse on sneezing/coughing, taking deep breaths, walking or making sudden movements; nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite constipation or diarrhea, fever, and abdominal bloating/ swelling. Many children don’t have these typical symptoms.

What are appendicitis care options? 

Most children with appendicitis require surgical removal of the appendix called an appendectomy. This is often now a minimally invasive procedure that is performed with laparoscopic tools. If perforation (with abscess formation) of the appendix has occurred, antibiotic treatment may be recommended prior to surgery.


Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: 1/29/2019 3:21:13 PM

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