Each year, appendicitis sends 77,000 children in the U.S. to the hospital. About one-third of them experience a ruptured appendix, a life-threatening complication, before they reach the operating room.
Appendicitis is an emergency. Parents need to know what to look for so they can get medical care right away.
Jennifer McNulty, M.D., pediatric emergency medicine physician and System Medical Director of Pediatrics for Edward-Elmhurst Health in suburban Chicago, provides answers to commonly asked questions from parents:
Q: What is appendicitis?
A: If the appendix, a small finger-shaped tube connected to the large intestine, gets infected, it’s called appendicitis, which is a surgical emergency that requires prompt diagnosis and treatment.
Appendicitis is rare in infants, more common after age 10, and most common in teens and young adults in their early 20s. After age 15, twice as many boys are affected as girls. Children with a family history of appendicitis may be at greater risk. Children younger than age 4 are at the highest risk for a ruptured appendix, partly because young children don’t have classic symptoms.
Q: What are the warning signs of appendicitis in children?
A: One of the most common symptoms of appendicitis in children is abdominal pain. Some specific warning signs of appendicitis in children include:
Belly pain (around the belly button, then may spread to the lower right belly)
A feeling of pressure/fullness in the belly
Diarrhea (small amounts with mucus)
If a child develops a high fever (104°F) and/or if belly pain gets worse and moves to the lower right side, get immediate medical attention as it could mean a ruptured appendix.
Q: What should I do if I think a child is having appendicitis?
A: Call the child’s doctor right away for next steps. Don’t offer the child anything to eat or to drink and only give medications that are recommended by the doctor.
At the ER, the doctor will likely perform a physical exam. If the doctor suspects appendicitis, he/she will recommend a variety of tests, such as: blood work, a urine test, X-rays, ultrasound and a CT scan.
Q: What does an appendectomy involve?
A: An appendectomy involves surgically removing the infected appendix. A child will likely need to stay in the hospital for at least two days. A child with a ruptured appendix might need a longer hospital stay.
Q: What makes the appendix burst? Is there any way to prevent it?
A: When the appendix is blocked, bacteria can grow and cause an infection. Some things that might block the appendix are hard stool, swollen lymph nodes in the intestines, parasites and other infections. An infected appendix must be treated in the hospital with antibiotics and surgery. If it isn’t, the appendix can burst 48-72 hours after symptoms first start and spread bacteria inside the abdomen, which is serious.
There is no way to prevent appendicitis. The most important thing for parents to remember is to get children the appropriate medical care quickly.
For more information, visit EEHealth.org.
SOURCE Edward-Elmhurst Health System