4 symptoms that may mean you have appendicitis

Ensure you know what to look out for, so you're not faced with the fallout of a burst appendix.

13 January 2016
by Meg de Jong

Appendicitis is defined as an inflammation of the appendix, a tube-shaped sac attached to the large intestine. The appendix assists in the development of our immune system, a function that is complete soon after birth. Once this period is over, it is not uncommon for it to cause health complications, with potentially dire consequences if left untreated.

Appendicitis, like many other conditions, can present differently in different people. For the most part, however, people experience the same telltale signs. Check out our list below so that you can recognize when something’s wrong and know when to seek medical assistance.

Here are some of the symptoms that may mean your appendix has become inflamed:

1. Bellybutton discomfort

The first sign that you might have appendicitis is usually tenderness around the navel, says gastroenterologist Dr John Wright. If the pain worsens when you cough, walk or are jolted, this is not a good sign.

2. Abdominal pain

A few hours after the umbilicus pain first presents, patients will commonly begin to feel increasing tenderness in the lower right part of the abdomen. One patient likened the sensation to having a brick turn over in her stomach. Occasionally patients feel this pain elsewhere in their abdomen.

“We all react differently,” says Dr Wright, explaining that the appendix can also be positioned differently in different people, which causes this variation. “This effects the sensation of pain and may delay diagnosis,” he says. Children, pregnant women and the elderly are the most common to experience the symptoms atypically.

3. Stomach-bug symptoms

Symptoms that one might usually associate with a stomach bug – nausea, high temperatures and generally feeling unwell – are another telltale sign. When you add these to lower abdominal pain, it’s a hallmark of appendicitis, and usually time to call the doctor.

Rapid progression of ailments

Symptoms usually occur in quite quick succession, often within a few hours of each other. The abdominal pain, which can be quite excruciating, can be strong enough to wake someone from their sleep.

When should you call a doctor?

If the pain in your lower abdomen doesn’t subside, it may be pertinent to seek medical attention. This becomes especially urgent if the pain is accompanied by a high temperature.

“In view of the serious complications of delayed treatment one should err on the side of safety and seek a medical opinion,” says Dr Wright, adding that this is even more so the case with children, pregnant women and the elderly.

A common misdiagnosis

It is not unusual for appendicitis to be misdiagnosed, but the penalty for not catching it in time is so severe that this is a necessary caution, says Dr Wright. “If appendicitis is not diagnosed, it can go on to burst and cause peritonitis (infection in the abdomen) which may cause death. Therefore, appendicitis tends to be over-diagnosed to avoid this complication,” he says.

The most common misdiagnoses are an irritable bowel, urinary tract infection (UTI) and gynaecological inflammation in adults, and a viral infection of the lymph nodes in children.

If you show any of the warning signs of appendicitis it is definitely better to be safe and seek medical advice, than sorry and risk serious health complications.

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com