Most parents have heard at least one horror story about a child whose stomachache turned out to be appendicitis, requiring a rush to the hospital and emergency surgery. Appendicitis, or inflammation of the appendix, can be a life-threatening problem and requires immediate medical attention. While you shouldn’t panic every time your child says his tummy hurts, you should familiarize yourself with the signs of appendicitis.
The appendix is a small organ that opens into the large intestine. If the opening into the large intestine gets blocked, the appendix can become clogged and swollen. A swollen appendix can be a breeding ground for bacterial infection, which can cause serious problems if the organ ruptures and spreads the bacteria throughout the body. Your child is most likely to develop appendicitis during her teen and tween years, between ages 11 to 20, according to KidsHealth.org. However, young children can also get appendicitis, and children under 5 years are the most likely to end up with a ruptured appendix, notes the Cleveland Clinic.
In general, appendicitis pain usually starts around the belly button. As the pain gets more intense, it shifts to the lower right side of the abdomen. Asking your child to pinpoint where her pain is the worst may be helpful in determining whether she has appendicitis. In young children, appendicitis usually manifests as severe abdominal pain accompanied by vomiting, notes the Cleveland Clinic. Your child’s abdomen may also feel hard, swollen or bloated. Your child’s diaper can also give you clues: diarrhea mixed with mucus or showing signs of more frequent urination may be symptoms of appendicitis. A low-grade fever may also be indicative of appendicitis.
The treatment for appendicitis is surgical removal of the appendix. The surgery, which typically takes less than an hour to complete, involves removing your child’s appendix and draining or flushing out the fluids around the cavity to prevent infection. Young children usually need a week to recover from this surgery and will need three weeks of rest time before returning to intense physical activity.
If your child displays symptoms of appendicitis but you aren’t sure whether it’s the real thing, seek medical attention. Even doctors sometimes have trouble diagnosing appendicitis because of its similarity to other conditions. The doctor may check your child’s abdomen, run blood and urine tests, and order X-ray or CAT scans to determine whether your child has appendicitis.
If your child has a high fever and complains of pain in his entire abdomen, it may mean that his appendix has burst. Call your child’s pediatrician and seek medical attention immediately. Your child will still need to have his appendix removed, but he’ll also need a course of antibiotics to prevent infection.