Thumbnail image of: Digestive System: Illustration

Appendicitis

What is appendicitis?

Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix. The appendix is a small, finger-shaped pouch where the large and small intestines join. In most cases inflammation of the appendix is caused by a blockage of the opening of the appendix by a piece of bowel movement. Sometimes it is caused by infection in the digestive tract.

It is important to get treatment for appendicitis before the appendix ruptures. A rupture is a break or tear in the appendix. If an infected appendix breaks open, infection and bowel movement may spread inside the belly. This can cause a life-threatening infection called peritonitis. Because of the risk of rupture, appendicitis is considered an emergency.

You can live a normal life without an appendix.

What can I expect in the hospital?

Several things may be done while you are in the hospital to monitor, test, and treat your condition. They include:

Monitoring

  • You will be checked often by the hospital staff.
  • Your heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature will be checked regularly.
  • Your blood oxygen level will be monitored by a sensor that is attached to your finger or earlobe.

Testing

Sometimes it is difficult to diagnose appendicitis, especially in young children, older adults, and pregnant women. Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and examine you.

Testing may include:

  • Blood tests to check for infection
  • Urine tests to check for blood or infection in your urine
  • Tests to look for abnormalities in your belly, which may include:
    • X-rays: Pictures of the inside of your belly to check the appendix
    • Computed tomography (CT) scan: A series of X-rays taken from different angles and arranged by a computer to show thin cross sections of the inside of the belly and intestines
    • Ultrasound scan: Sound waves are used to show pictures of the inside of your belly
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A powerful magnetic field and radio waves are used to take pictures from different angles to show thin cross sections of the inside your belly

Treatment

Treatment may include:

  • You will have a small tube (IV catheter) inserted into a vein in your hand or arm. This will allow for medicine to be given directly into your blood and to give you fluids, if needed.
  • You will have surgery to remove the appendix, called an appendectomy.
  • Your provider may prescribe medicine to:
    • Treat pain
    • Treat or prevent an infection
    • Prevent a blood clot
    • Prevent side effects, such as nausea or constipation, from other treatments
    • Soften stool and reduce straining with a bowel movement
  • If the appendix ruptured, temporary tubes may be left to drain blood and fluid for a few days after surgery.

What can I do to help?

  • You will need to tell your healthcare team if you have new or worsening:
    • Belly pain that goes away and then returns worse than it was
    • Pain that is not well controlled with your medicine
    • Change in bowel habits, such as pain, mucus, diarrhea, constipation, or other intestinal problems
    • Blood in your bowel movement
    • Blood in your vomit
    • Redness, swelling, pain, warmth, or drainage from your surgical wound
    • Fever, chills, or muscle aches.
  • Ask questions about any medicine or treatment or information that you do not understand.

How long will I be in the hospital?

How long you stay in the hospital depends on many factors. The average amount of time to stay in the hospital with appendicitis is 3 days.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Acute Care Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-12-19
Last reviewed: 2014-11-20
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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