Spot the Signs: How to Tell If You Have Appendicitis

Appendicitis is a major health concern, as your life could be at risk if your appendix bursts before surgeons have the chance to remove it. However, Michael Payne, MD, a gastroenterologist with Cambridge Health Alliance, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, notes, ‘It is a very common illness and many people don’t have classic symptoms. We actually have to put our hands on a belly to see for sure.’ So how can you tell if your wellbeing has been affected by appendicitis? Luckily, there are certain signs to watch out for:


1. Belly-button pain: Even though appendicitis pain mainly occurs in the lower-right side of your abdomen, your first sign that your wellness has been affected will be discomfort near your belly-button. This pain will then move to your lower abdomen, and will get worse if you cough, sneeze, move your legs or abdomen or become jarred (during a bumpy car ride, for instance).


2. Rapidly-worsening pain: The pain can become really intense once it hits the lower part of the abdomen. According to Dr. Payne, many of his patients describe it as, ‘like no other pain they have felt before.’ In fact, the pain is so severe that, if you’re sleeping once it hits, it can even wake you up.


3. Low-grade fever and chills: A lot of people mistake appendicitis for a stomach bugs, as the symptoms are similar; low-grade fever, chills, and shaking. Dr. Payne makes the following distinction: if your fever is 100 degrees and your stomach hurts, you probably don’t have anything to worry about. If your fever is 103 degrees and your stomach hurts so badly that you can’t stand up straight, you may have appendicitis.


4. Vomiting, nausea, and loss of appetite: It’s likely that you’ll have a few days of low appetite, mild nausea and vomiting, again similar to a stomach bug. Dr. Payne notes, ‘You won’t have projectile vomiting – It’s not like The Exorcist.’ You’re probably fine if this improves after a day or so, but if it continues and you have any of the other appendicitis symptoms, you should seek medical attention. The same goes if you have been vomiting for more than 12 hours, or have had diarrhoea for more than a couple of days.


5. Constipation or diarrhoea: Again, this symptom is likely to be mild and occur after you’ve already experienced abdominal pain. If this does happen – particularly if there’s a lot of mucus in your diarrhoea – you should see your doctor.


6. Gas and bloating: A little bloating in the evening is common in anyone who indulges in a few beers and half a pizza, but if you wake up the next morning and still have pain – or the pain is worse – you may have cause for concern. Being bloated for more than a couple days, having a lot of gas accompanied by bowel pain, or having trouble passing gas are general symptoms that may indicate appendicitis if they occur alongside other telltale signs.


7. Rebound tenderness: If you push on the lower-right part of your abdomen and then experience pain when releasing the pressure, this is known as rebound tenderness and may indicate appendicitis – especially if accompanied by a fever, nausea, or other symptoms. Dr. Payne advises against pushing on your abdomen again — ‘if it hurts, don’t do it again’ is a good rule with appendicitis-related abdominal pain, he says – and you should go see your doctor.


8. No symptoms: While Dr. Payne has heard stories about doctors opening up patients for unrelated surgery and discovering that their appendix has ruptured and healed without treatment, he argues that this is an urban legend. He asserts, ‘If your appendix bursts, you’re going to know it.’

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