Now and then, we all get stomach aches. However, sometimes this is a sign that something more serious is going on—something that might require a visit to the ER.
Stomach pains are one symptom of appendicitis, a potentially dangerous condition that affects over 600,000 people every year.
How can you distinguish between normal stomach pains and appendicitis?
A four-inch fingerlike bundle of tissue within the large intestine, the appendix function is not completely understood, although it is likely involved in regulating bacteria in the gut. Appendicitis occurs when cells in the appendix get infected, often when stool gets lodged inside the organ. In many pediatric cases, it is simply a matter of bacterial buildup. Both cases lead to inflammation, swelling, and potentially rupture.
You should visit the ER if your abdominal pain is severe and won’t go away, if the pain reaches into the back, or if this pain occurs alongside high fever, nausea, chest pain, dizziness, discolored stool, or an irregular heartbeat.
The most commonly reported symptom of appendicitis is migrating pain. Although it can feel like a stomach ache, this pain starts in the abdomen but then appears to move, usually to the lower right side.
The second symptom is nausea, which is often followed by vomiting. However, if diarrhea occurs, the problem may be gastroenteritis instead of appendicitis. Accompanying this nausea is a general lack of appetite.
Lastly, appendicitis is often accompanied by a fever. This is due to the infection spreading to other parts of the body.
Usually, a blood test will tell your physician if your white blood cell count is elevated. A CT scan is also helpful in some cases. Your physician will also rule out other conditions based on his examination.
Usually, the infected appendix is removed in a simple outpatient surgical procedure. In more advanced cases, especially if the appendix has ruptured, the patient needs to take antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication before the appendix can be removed. In both cases, once the appendix is removed, there is no risk of recurrence.