Appendicitis: Symptoms and treatment
Stomachaches in little ones can be hard to decipher. Too many candies or sweets? A little bug that will pass in 24 hours? Or is it more serious and something that needs medical attention? Appendicitis is one of those illnesses whose symptoms are similar to a run-of-the-mill stomach bug but can be much more serious if not caught quickly.
The appendix is a small organ attached to the large intestine on the lower right side of the abdomen. When the appendix is blocked it becomes inflamed. It can be blocked by stool, lymph node swelling or an infection. This blockage causes a growth of bacteria, and if not taken care of, the appendix can burst and release this bacteria into the abdomen, causing serious injury (KidsHealth.org).
Appendicitis is the most common cause for emergency surgery in teens, affecting approximately 80,000 children every year (Parents.com), although it doesn’t often affect infants. The symptoms often mimic other abdominal issues and most often begin as a mild fever and pain around the belly button. Over time, the pain worsens and moves to the lower right side of the belly. Other common symptoms include vomiting, nausea and loss of appetite. While a CT scan is the most accurate way to diagnose appendicitis, many doctors are hesitant to employ it because it involves radiation. An ultrasound is slightly less accurate but still commonly used to diagnose.
The only way to treat appendicitis is surgery. Many times appendicitis is not actually diagnosed until the surgery to remove the organ. The goal is to remove the appendix before it bursts, giving the child an easy recovery and quick return home—usually within 24 hours of the surgery. If rupture has already occurred, the recovery takes longer and can have potential side effects. While in the hospital, the child will receive IV antibiotics to ward off any infections and will receive pain medication as well. Bowel function is also closely monitored, and the child will probably have to start with liquids before he is able to move on to solid food. Rest is another important part of recovery (ClevelandClinic.org).
While appendicitis is serious and can lead to many complications, the turn-around generally is short and recovery quick!
Jessica Heine is a labor and delivery nurse. She lives in Olathe with her family.
As always, please consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns.