Skip to main content Skip to main navigation

Appendicitis

Medibank Health Directory

What is Appendicitis?

Appendicitis occurs when your appendix becomes infected and inflamed.

It can become a medical emergency and usually requires urgent surgery to remove it. Most common in children and adolescents, the symptoms can include abdominal pain, fever and vomiting.

Scientists are still unclear about the exact role the appendix plays in your body. The small organ is located on the right side of your abdomen, and is connected to your large bowel. For most people, it sits unnoticed for their whole life, but for some – more commonly, children and adolescents – it can become infected and inflamed.

An inflamed appendix is called appendicitis. It can become a medical emergency requiring urgent surgery – because if the inflamed appendix bursts, the spread of infection through the abdomen can cause life-threatening peritonitis.

Appendicitis is diagnosed by a doctor through a physical examination, as pain at the site is a strong indicator. They may also do an ultrasound or x-ray to confirm. Once diagnosed, the doctor will typically recommend an appendectomy to remove the inflamed appendix. Sometimes, antibiotics are prescribed.

Following an appendectomy, patients should make a full recovery.

Symptoms of appendicitis

Some of the symptoms of appendicitis may include:

  • Pain near the belly button or the lower right side of the abdomen
  • pain made worse by touching the tummy
  • high temperature
  • nausea and vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhoea or constipation.

Causes and treatment of appendicitis

When you get appendicitis, your appendix swells up. The swelling can be caused by either an infection entering the appendix or a small hard piece of faeces getting stuck in the appendix tube. Once the appendix swells up, it becomes sealed off from the rest of the body and can possibly burst. This may all happen in a short timeframe – only 1-2 days from the onset of the infection. 

A burst appendix is very serious, as the pus from the infection leaks into your abdomen. This life-threatening condition is called peritonitis. 

To avoid peritonitis, the doctor will usually recommend surgical removal of your appendix if it is inflamed. This surgical procedure is called an appendectomy (or appendicectomy), and it involves the complete removal of the appendix. It is a relatively simple procedure and is often performed using key hole surgery. You should make a full recovery. 

Sometimes, if surgery isn’t possible, antibiotics are prescribed instead.

Further information and resources

Disclaimer

This article is of a general nature only. You should always seek medical advice if you think you may have the symptoms of appendicitis.