A child clutching his stomach while sitting in bed with him mom.
Appendicitis in kids will often result in severe stomach pain and possibly nausea.

Appendicitis in Kids

Is your child complaining of a tummy ache? You may be worried and unsure of what to do. It can be challenging to identify the exact cause of your child’s stomach pain. Stomach pain is a common problem in children. Most stomach aches are just a simple tummy pain and can be treated at home, but in some cases, like appendicitis in kids, more medical care is needed.

How do you know if it is something serious that needs immediate care? If your child’s stomachache does not improve within 24 hours, or the pain gets worse in a short amount of time, you should take them to a doctor as soon as possible.

One of the causes of severe abdominal pain in children is appendicitis. It is considered a medical emergency. If it is not treated immediately, it may cause a life-threatening condition. It often affects teens and young adults in their 20s. It can also occur in children as young as 5 years old, but rarely happens in infants.

What Is Appendicitis?

Appendicitis is an inflammation characterized by painful swelling and infection of the appendix. The appendix is a small, finger-shaped structure attached to the large intestine in the lower right side of the abdomen. Like any other organ of the body, it needs adequate blood flow to remain healthy. When the blood supply to the appendix is reduced, the irritation increases. If prolonged, it will lead to gangrene or body tissue death. Studies show that the appendix is not a vital organ. It has no particular function in our body. However, it can get infected, burst and rupture.

What Are the Common Symptoms of Appendicitis in Kids?

One of the common signs of appendicitis in children is a sharp pain that starts mainly around the bellybutton. Within a few hours, the pain may move down to the lower right side of the abdomen. It can be a stable pain that comes and go at first, and then it gradually intensifies.

When your child experiences this kind of pain, you may find them lying on their side with their legs drawn up towards their belly. Afterward, a child usually develops a low-grade fever. They may also begin to lose their appetite, feel nauseous and they may vomit. If your child is younger than 2 years old, you might notice that their abdomen is bloated and swollen.

Other symptoms may also include diarrhea, frequent and strong urge to urinate, constipation and sometimes respiratory symptoms, like deep breaths and coughing. If you notice these symptoms in your child, you should bring them to the doctor immediately. A prompt diagnosis and treatment are crucial in reducing the risk associated with advanced inflammation.

How Is Appendicitis in Children Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of appendicitis in children can be difficult. It is because the symptoms can be similar to gastroenteritis, food poisoning, kidney stones, urinary tract infection and other respiratory problems.

To find out if your child has appendicitis, the doctor will take a health history and perform a physical examination. The doctor will examine the abdomen for signs of pain and tenderness. Blood, urine and stool tests may also be requested.

To confirm the diagnosis, your child may undergo imaging procedures, such as an ultrasound. A more detailed CT scan may follow if the ultrasound result is inconclusive. During these examinations, the medical team might advise you not to give any food or drink to your child. This is in preparation for a possible surgery if appendicitis is confirmed.

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What Are the Treatments Options for Appendicitis?

In most cases, appendicitis is treated surgically. If not diagnosed in its early stage, the appendix can burst and cause an infection called peritonitis.

Peritonitis is an inflammation of the peritoneum, which is a covering of the inner abdominal wall. This infection can rapidly spread and possibly cause death. In this case, the doctors will likely advise removing the appendix through an operation performed by a surgeon.

The appendix may be removed in two ways, either via open appendectomy or laparoscopic surgery. Some study shows that laparoscopic surgery may increase the risk of abscess formation inside the abdomen after successful surgery. That is why it is not recommended in children who have complicated appendicitis.

There are some cases that your child will be given antibiotics to treat the infection first. Then, they will undergo an appendectomy at a later time. This delayed surgery is called an interval appendectomy. If the appendix has not ruptured yet, an urgent appendectomy is still accepted as optimal treatment.

Children recover more quickly and are less likely to suffer from post-surgery complications. This especially applies when the ruptured appendix is removed within 24 hours of diagnosis. Generally, children who have their appendices removed will have no long-term health problems.