Appendicitis is an infection of an organ called the appendix, a narrow pouch connected to the colon. When it is infected, the appendix can swell. This causes pain in the abdomen and other symptoms
Appendicitis happens in 7% of all people in America at some time in their life. It happens most often when we are children or teens. The appendix has no known important function. If appendicitis develops, your child may become very sick.
Symptoms of appendicitis
One of the most common signs of appendicitis in children is abdominal pain. Your child may say it hurts in the middle of the abdomen near the belly button or along their right side. The pain will continue and become worse over time. The pain may feel worse with movement, like walking or riding in the car. Your child may not want to eat and may feel sick to his/her stomach or throw up. Your child may also have a fever.
How is appendicitis diagnosed?
Your child will have their blood pressure, heart rate and temperature checked. The doctor will see your child and perform an exam. The doctor will ask you and your child about the pain and other symptoms. If the doctor thinks that your child may have appendicitis, more tests may be needed. These tests may include:
Blood test—to look for signs of infection
Urine test—to see if there is a urine infection
X-ray test—to look at the intestines
Ultrasound test—to look at the appendix
CT ("Cat" scan) or MRI test—to look at the appendix
What is the treatment for appendicitis?
Medicines. The doctor or nurse may insert an IV in their vein to give your child fluids and medications. IV fluids will help hydrate your child. This is important because they will not give your child anything to eat or drink if they think that they may have appendicitis.
If the tests show appendicitis, they will give your child antibiotics into the IV. Antibiotics are important to treat the infection of the appendix.
Your child may also be given medicine for pain to help them feel better.
Surgery. If your child has appendicitis, a surgeon will see them. The surgeon will tell you if they think that your child needs surgery to remove the appendix, and also talk about when to do the operation.
Which is better: medicines or surgery?
Your doctor will give your child antibiotics to treat appendicitis. This is important to treat the infection of the appendix. Usually, antibiotics are given before the surgery to start treating the infection of the appendix before it is removed. Surgery to remove the infected appendix is considered the best way to treat appendicitis.
Sometimes, antibiotics can be enough to treat appendicitis. Your doctor will discuss with you if your child’s appendicitis can be treated safely with only antibiotics. For most children, however, surgery is required to remove the appendix.
If you think your child may have appendicitis, call your pediatrician or seek emergency care right away. The earlier appendicitis is diagnosed and treated with medications or surgery, the better your child’s recovery will be. If the infection gets severe enough to cause the appendix to leak or burst, which can spread the infection.
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Editor’s note: Christine Waasdorp Hurtado, MD, MSCS, FAAP, a pediatric gastroenteroloigst, and pediatric surgeons Laura Hollinger, MD, FAAP & Steven Lee, MD, FAAP, contributed to this article.