When a Tummy-ache is an Emergency

What Is Appendicitis?

Appendicitis is the inflammation (itis) of the appendix. The appendix is a small extension of the colon that can become swollen, infected, or obstructed (blocked). When any of these situations occur, it can lead to bacterial overgrowth and infection in the appendix.

What Are the Symptoms of Appendicitis?

Children get stomach aches often, so it can be difficult to know what is a medical emergency and what is something that will pass on its own. The tale-tell signs of appendicitis include:

  • Pain that begins around the belly button and/or the lower right side of the stomach
  • Worsening pain that does not ease up
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever and chills — ranging from low-grade (99°) to over 104°
  • Swollen abdomen

Appendicitis is more common in the second decade of life when children are capable of telling you their symptoms. However, in younger children, there are a few things to be on the lookout for:

  • Pain that stops your child from playing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Changes in bowel patterns — diarrhea or severe constipation
  • Desire to lie in the “fetal position” (on the side with legs drawn up to chest)
  • Inability to fully stand up or lie straight (need to be bent at the waist)
  • Green liquid vomit — this does not happen in all cases, do not wait for this sign

If your child presents with any of these symptoms, call your pediatrician right away. If they suspect appendicitis, contact the pediatric surgical team at Alaska Pediatric Surgery.

Appendicitis Facts You Should Know

There are a few things you should know about childhood appendicitis and how you can differentiate between a normal “tummy ache” and something more serious.

  • Appendicitis is not common in infants and typically occurs between ages 5 and 20.
  • Appendicitis is NOT contagious. If your child is suffering from appendicitis, he did not get it from anyone and cannot spread it to you or any of your other children.
  • There is no way to prevent appendicitis and there is nothing that you did to cause it.
  • Appendicitis is a medical emergency that requires immediate surgical intervention.
  • The symptoms of appendicitis can present differently in everyone, if your child has severe abdominal pain that does not ease up, seek medical attention.
  • Appendicitis cannot be treated with herbs, essential oils, or other over-the-counter medications — immediate medical intervention should not be delayed.
  • When the appendix ruptures, your child may feel sudden relief (typically between 48 and 72 hours after onset of symptoms). However, this means the large collection of pus and infection that was contained inside the appendix will quickly spread throughout the body.
  • You do not need your appendix to survive, so removal is safe and effective.

How Can Alaska Pediatric Surgery Help?

At Alaska Pediatric Surgery, performing surgical interventions on children is our specialty. We can safely and quickly perform an appendectomy (the surgical removal of an appendix). We typically perform an appendectomy laparoscopically (using a tiny scope) through the abdomen. This usually only leaves a tiny incision and doesn’t cause damage to the surrounding tissue and abdomen muscle. After an appendectomy, your child may stay in the hospital for about a day to be monitored. If their appendix did rupture, they may be required to stay a few extra days to get the infection under control.

The skilled pediatric surgical team at Alaska Pediatric Surgery has performed hundreds of appendectomies on Alaskan children with great success. Although this situation may be stressful for you and your family, you can trust that your child is in the best hands when Drs. Roaten, Proctor, and McAteer and their team are on the case.