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Appendicitis in Teens

Early adolescence is prime time for appendicitis, a potentially serious inflammation of the appendix. The small appendage, located on the right side of the lower abdomen, sticks out from the colon like a protruding tongue. Should it become inflamed and need to be surgically removed—the sole treatment for appendicitis—the appendix is hardly missed, for it has no known function.

Symptoms that Suggest Appendicitis may Include:

  • Persistent abdominal pain that migrates from the midsection to the right lower abdomen
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Gas pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Low fever, beginning after other symptoms
  • Tenderness in the right lower abdomen
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Elevated white blood cell count
  • Appetite loss

“Anybody who’s had appendicitis will tell you that pain is unlike any other kind of pain,” says Dr. Alan Lake, M.D. “In adolescents, it begins as a vague stomachache near the navel. Then patients feel it in the lower part of the right side of the abdomen.” He describes the sensation as a peculiar combination of pressure and fullness.

The distinctive symptom should be heeded very seriously; should the appendix rupture, it may infect the double-layer peritoneal membrane that lines the abdominal cavity. The medical term for this is peritonitis. Notify your pediatrician at once or contact a local hospital emergency department. While you wait to see the doctor, instruct your teen to lie down and be still. Any kind of movement, including coughing or taking a deep breath, can exacerbate the pain. Don’t offer water, food, laxatives, aspirin or a heating pad.

How Appendicitis Is Diagnosed

Physical examination and thorough medical history, plus one or more of the following procedures:

  • White blood cell count
  • Urinalysis, to rule out a urinary-tract infection
  • Ultrasound
  • Lower GI series (barium enema)
  • CT scan
  • Exploratory laparoscopic surgery

How Appendicitis Is Treated

  • Surgery: Appendicitis can be difficult to diagnose definitely. Therefore, your physician may not schedule the appendectomy until the symptoms have progressed somewhat. Conventional “open” surgery usually requires a two day hospital stay, barring complications, and leaves youngsters with a small scar, but completely cured.

Helping Teens To Help Themselves

Youngsters should be encouraged to follow these basic guidelines for a healthy digestive tract:

  • Eat at regular hours.
  • Drink lots of water (at least eight cups of water or other liquid every day).
  • Keep physically active.
  • Chew food slowly and thoroughly before swallowing.
  • Use aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications sparingly; these drugs can irritate the fragile gastrointestinal lining.
  • Don’t smoke; cigarettes, too, contribute to ulcers.
  • Listen to your body! Don’t suppress the urge to move your bowels.
  • Try not to strain during bowel movements.
  • And most important, even with a busy schedule regular meals should be taken daily. Attempts should be made to have at least some of these meals sitting around a table preferably allowing time to talk, chew and digest. This will not only help your teens’ gut, but help the whole family stay connected.
Last Updated
Caring for Your Teenager (Copyright © 2003 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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