Frequently Asked Questions


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What is appendicitis?

Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix. The appendix is a small pouch that is attached to the large intestine on the lower right side of the abdomen.

What causes appendicitis?

The appendix may get blocked by part of a bowel movement that becomes hard or by food. This can cause swelling and pain. The appendix can become infected with bacteria or a virus. Appendicitis can also be caused by a parasite, a tumor, or barium. Barium is a chemical that is used for certain imaging tests.

What are the signs and symptoms of appendicitis?

Symptoms may start suddenly. The most common symptom is pain that starts at the belly button and moves to the right, lower side of your abdomen. The pain worsens when you touch your abdomen, move, sneeze, cough, or take a deep breath. You may also have one or more of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Abdomen that feels hard

  • Diarrhea or constipation

  • Loss of appetite

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Fever that usually begins after other signs and symptoms

How is appendicitis diagnosed?

  • Blood tests: You may need blood taken to show if you have an infection. The blood may be taken from your hand, arm, or IV.

  • Urine test: You may need a urine test to check for a urinary tract infection or kidney stone.

  • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your abdomen. You may be given dye in your IV before the pictures are taken. The dye will help your healthcare provider see the pictures better. People who are allergic to iodine or shellfish (crab, lobster, or shrimp) may be allergic to some dyes.

  • Abdominal ultrasound: This test is done so caregivers can see the tissues and organs of your abdomen. Gel will be put on your abdomen and a small sensor will be moved across your abdomen. The sensor uses sound waves to send pictures of your abdomen to a TV-like screen.

How is appendicitis treated?

  • Medicines:

    • Pain medicine: You may be given medicine to take away or decrease pain. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine.

    • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to help treat or prevent an infection caused by bacteria.

  • Appendectomy: This is surgery to remove your appendix. During a laparoscopic appendectomy, small incisions are made in your abdomen. A small scope and special tools are inserted through these incisions. A scope is a flexible tube with a light and camera on the end. If your appendix has burst, you may need an open appendectomy. This is when a single, larger incision is made to remove your appendix and clean out your abdomen.

What are the risks of appendicitis?

Your appendix may burst. This can cause infected fluid to spread into your abdomen. If this happens, you may have a high fever and severe pain. The infection can spread to your organs or blood. This can be life-threatening. Ask your caregiver for more information about the risks of appendicitis.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have abdominal pain that does not go away, even after you take medicine.

  • You have chills, a cough, or feel weak and achy.

  • You have trouble having a bowel movement or have diarrhea.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have a fever.

  • You have severe pain in your abdomen.

  • You are vomiting and cannot keep food down.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

Learn more about Appendicitis