The abdomen is the part of your body below your chest and above the pelvic region, and any pain in this area is referred to as abdominal pain. Almost everybody would have experienced pain in the abdomen one time or another. Most causes are harmless and can be diagnosed and treated easily. However, abdominal pain could also signify a serious illness. That is why it is important to be able to recognize dangerous symptoms and know when to call a doctor.
Appendicitis is a condition that is caused by the inflammation of the appendix. The appendix is a small, pouch-shaped organ attached to the large intestine and located on the lower right-hand side of the abdomen. Inflammation of the appendix occurs due to an obstruction or blockage caused by the accumulation of mucus, parasites, or more commonly, fecal matter. The obstruction causes bacteria to quickly multiply within the organ causing it to become inflamed and swollen, which ultimately lead to appendicitis. Pain in the abdomen near the belly button is the major symptom of this condition, but every abdominal pain cannot be related to appendicitis. Just because you are experiencing pain in the stomach doesn’t mean you are having appendicitis. Let’s understand what could be the other possible reasons of abdominal pain that are often confused with appendicitis:
- Ectopic pregnancy
- Ovarian cysts
- Urinary tract infection (UTI)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Crohn's disease
- Kidney infection
- Peptic ulcers
- Food allergies
- Lactose intolerance
Recognizing the specific type of pain will help you identify the right condition and get the right treatment accordingly. For example:
- If you are experiencing cramping in your abdomen, it can be mainly due to gas.
- The immense abdominal pain that comes and goes in waves is called "colicky pain". This pain is typically caused by gallstones or kidney stones.
- If the pain is not restricted to a specific area and is spread on more than half of your belly, it may be due to indigestion, a stomach virus, or gas.
- If the pain is becoming more intense with time, it may be due to an obstruction or blockage in the large intestine.
- If the pain only occurs in a specific area of your belly, a malfunctioning organ such as the pancreas, gallbladder, stomach, or appendix may be responsible for this.
How to Recognize Appendicitis Pain
Generally, appendicitis pain starts as a dull pain near your belly button, which later moves to your lower right abdomen. This pain is considered as the classic symptom and first sign of appendicitis, although it occurs only in half of the cases. Hence, other signs and symptoms could also help recognize the onset of appendicitis.
Moreover, appendicitis pain is characterized by the following symptoms:
- Pain begins suddenly
- Pain becomes extensively sharper in just a few hours
- Pain is the first symptom and occurs before other symptoms such as nausea, fever, and vomiting start to manifest
- Associated with another condition called anorexia
- Becomes more severe when you walk, cough, breathe deeply, or sneeze
- Reaches at its peak when you drive over a speed bump
- Rebound tenderness. It is a condition in which the stomach hurts when someone applies pressure and then releases the pressure in the lower right or lower left side of your abdomen.
- You feel pain when a pressure is applied to your right knee as you attempt to lift up that leg while lying down on your back.
- You try to protect your lower right abdomen when someone attempts to touch it.
- You feel pain in your abdomen while moving or when you bend your right knee to the right and left while lying down on your back.
Here are some of the other signs and symptoms you may experience if you have appendicitis:
- Loss of appetite
- Vomiting or nausea soon after the onset of abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling and/or tenderness
Some atypical symptoms could also include:
- Vomiting or nausea before the onset of abdominal pain
- Dull pain in the back or lower back regions
- Painful urination
When to Consult Your Doctor
If you experience abdominal pain that worsens rapidly or is sudden and severe in onset, it is recommended that you call or consult a doctor immediately because both timely diagnosis and treatment are very important. To confirm that your abdominal pain is associated with appendicitis, your doctor will perform a physical examination to detect tenderness.
It is important to remember that abdominal pain can have many causes and to make an accurate diagnosis, the doctor may further ask about the nature of your pain and other symptoms you experience.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosing appendicitis is challenging and often, surgeons make the call after considering all the symptoms and findings of the physical examination. Several other health issues can also cause pain in your lower right abdominal area. For example, ovulation pain and constipation can also cause localized pain in the lower right abdomen and rebound tenderness. Hence, it is clear that every abdominal pain cannot be necessarily appendicitis. In such cases when you are not sure about your condition, imaging tests become necessary to make an accurate diagnosis of appendicitis.
Therefore, to confirm a diagnosis, one may be required to undergo a variety of tests. They may include blood tests, urine tests to rule out urinary tract infections, and pregnancy tests in women. Imaging tests such as a CT scan or an ultrasound may also be done to clarify the causes of the symptoms.
Treatment modality is based on these results and the case of appendicitis may include antibiotics and an appendectomy. Appendectomy is the surgical removal of an infected appendix. Acute appendicitis is often fatal. Therefore, if the symptoms are severe with a confirmed diagnosis, and there is a danger of the appendix from rupturing, then immediate surgery will likely be performed.
Can appendicitis be prevented?
Appendicitis cannot be prevented. If you suspect that you have appendicitis symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
As appendicitis is less common among people consuming a high fiber diet, eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables could lower your risk for it. Make sure that your daily diet includes foods that are high in fiber to stay away from the tremendous pain that is caused by appendicitis.