6 Serious Symptoms of Appendicitis You Need to Watch Out For
Learn how to recognize the early symptoms of appendicitis, from abdominal pain to difficulty moving, so you can seek treatment immediately.
What’s up with your stomach, anyway?
Most people have experienced some form of stomach discomfort, whether it’s a stomach virus, food poisoning, or diarrhea. (Check out the top seven causes of stomach pains and what they mean.) Less common, but still important to know about, is appendicitis. This occurs when the appendix, which is a worm-shaped pouch that sits on the lower right side of the abdomen, becomes inflamed. About five percent of the population ends up with appendicitis, which is most common in teenagers and those in their early twenties, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
An appendix that is inflamed should be treated immediately because it can burst and release bacteria into the abdomen. This can lead to a blood infection or severe inflammation of the intestinal lining. “If it is not treated, your appendix can rupture, which can be life-threatening,” says Jennifer Caudle, DO, a board-certified family physician and assistant professor at Rowan School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, New Jersey.
Here’s how to recognize the early symptoms of appendicitis so you can seek treatment immediately.
Abdominal pain is the most common and often first reported appendicitis symptoms. “The pain is generally located around the umbilicus, aka the belly button, and in about 50 percent of patients, the pain migrates to the right lower quadrant of the abdomen,” says Cedrek McFadden, MD a board-certified gastrointestinal surgeon in both colorectal and general surgery at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville. While a stomach ache or indigestion tends to be steady pain, with appendicitis, it can become excruciating pain in a matter of hours. (Read more about the causes of stomach pains.)
Constipation or diarrhea
“If the appendix is positioned lower in the pelvis, the patient may have increased urinary frequency, pain with urination, or even diarrhea,” notes Dr. McFadden. Sometimes constipation can be the problem. He notes that it depends on the location of the appendix, which is normally in the right lower quadrant but is different for each person. (Find out what your bowel movements reveal about your health.)
Nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite
“Nausea and vomiting along with not wanting to eat, usually follow the onset of the abdominal pain,” says Dr. McFadden. So if you have severe pain combined with feeling like you are going to throw up, you should head to the doctor. Here are 15 silent signs your body may be in big trouble.
Fever and chills
A fever is a sign of infection. “A fever combined with chills can be a sign of appendicitis,” says Dr. McFadden. A fever means your head is hot, but if you have chills, you can put on a lot of blankets and still feel cold. The combination of hot and cold, combined with the stomach pain is a warning sign of possible appendicitis.
You can become gassy from eating too much fruit, beans, and other gas-producing foods, and that’s normal. However, the combination of gas with bowel irregularity and indigestion could be a sign that something is amiss with your appendix, says Dr. McFadden. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases notes that if it feels like having a bowel movement will relieve the discomfort, but it does not, then this is a possible warning sign.
Because of the pain that appendicitis causes, many people who have it have a hard time moving, says Dr. Caudle. Often, people will curl into a ball in their bed or on the couch, hoping the pain subsides. Typically, the pain may get worse when you move around, take deep breaths, cough, or sneeze. (Plus, read the health symptoms you should never ignore.)
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, you should go to your doctor or urgent care facility right away. “Appendicitis happens when the appendix is inflamed and is a very serious condition that needs to be treated right away,” says Dr. Caudle. “If it is not treated, appendicitis can lead to complications which can include a ruptured appendix, which can be life-threatening.”
That’s why catching appendicitis early is key. “Signs of appendicitis getting worse include severe pain in the lower right part of the abdomen, rigid abdomen, pain with walking, coughing, or going over bumps in the car. Altered mental status with these signs would be a sign of a severe systemic infection,” says Dan Gingold, MD, MPH, academic fellow and chief resident at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, department of emergency medicine in Baltimore.
Surgery is the usual treatment for appendicitis. (Next, don’t miss these 12 other things your stomach is trying to tell you, too.)
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Definition & Facts for Appendicitis”
- Jennifer Caudle, DO, a board-certified family physician and assistant professor at Rowan School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, New Jersey
- Cedrek McFadden, MD a board-certified gastrointestinal surgeon in both colorectal and general surgery at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Symptoms & Causes of Appendicitis”
- Dan Gingold, MD, MPH, academic fellow and chief resident at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine in Baltimore