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Appendicitis in Children


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Dec 2019| Content last modified Dec 2019
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What is appendicitis?

Appendicitis is inflammation (swelling) and infection of your appendix. The appendix is a small finger-shaped organ attached to your large intestine.

The appendix is an organ that doesn’t have a necessary function. You don't need your appendix to live a healthy life.

  • Appendicitis is most common in teens and young adults and rare before the age of 1

  • Symptoms include belly pain (usually in the lower right belly), low fever (100 to 101° F [37.7° to 38.3° C]), and throwing up

  • It can be hard for doctors to tell if your child has appendicitis or another problem—they'll do blood tests and ultrasound

  • Appendicitis is a medical emergency and your child will need surgery

What causes appendicitis?

Appendicitis sometimes happens when the appendix is blocked either by:

  • Hard stool (poop)

  • Lymph nodes (tiny, bean-shaped organs that help fight off infections) in the intestine that swell because of an infection

Regardless of what's blocking it, the appendix swells and bacteria grow. If it isn't treated, the appendix can break open cause infection inside your belly (called peritonitis).

What are the symptoms of appendicitis?

Symptoms include:

  • Pain in the middle of the belly that moves to the lower right side

  • In babies and children, pain may happen all over the belly

  • Throwing up and not wanting to eat

  • Low fever of 100 to 101° F (37.7° to 38.3° C)

How can doctors tell if my child has appendicitis?

It can be hard to be sure your child has appendicitis. If doctors think your child has appendicitis, they'll do:

  • Blood tests

  • Ultrasound

If the ultrasound result isn't clear, doctors may:

  • Observe your child and repeat the physical exam, looking for signs that it's getting worse

  • Do a CT scan or MRI

How do doctors treat appendicitis?

Doctors treat appendicitis by doing surgery to remove the appendix (appendectomy). Untreated appendicitis can be deadly.

The best time to operate is before the appendix bursts. If the appendix has already burst, the doctor:

  • Removes the appendix

  • Washes out the insides of your child's belly with fluid

  • Gives antibiotics for several days

  • Watches for problems, such as infection or blocked intestines

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