Last Updated February 2021 | This article was created by editorial staff and reviewed by Leisa Bailey, MD

What is appendicitis?

Appendicitis is inflammation or infection in your appendix. The appendix is a tube-like organ in your abdomen. It’s attached to your large intestine. It has no known purpose. If the infection isn’t treated, your appendix can become blocked. When this happens, the appendix can burst. This can cause the infection to spread throughout your abdomen. Anyone can get appendicitis. It’s most common in teens and young adults.

Symptoms of appendicitis

Symptoms can start fast and get worse over time. They include:

  • Pain on the right side of the abdomen
  • Swelling and pressure in the abdomen
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Inability to pass gas
  • Fever

Not everyone with appendicitis has all these symptoms. Plus, other conditions can cause the same symptoms, including constipation, inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal obstruction, ovarian cysts, and abdominal adhesions.

What causes appendicitis?

Several things can cause appendicitis. They include:

  • A blocked opening inside the appendix
  • Abdominal infection
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Stool, parasites, or growths inside your appendix
  • Trauma or injury to your abdomen

Sometimes, the cause is unknown.

How is appendicitis diagnosed?

Your doctor will do a physical exam. They also will ask you about your symptoms and medical history. Your doctor may order certain tests. These include blood, urine, and possibly a pregnancy test. Additional tests may include an X-ray, ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI.

Can appendicitis be prevented or avoided?

Appendicitis can’t be prevented. Research suggests there may be preventive benefits from maintaining a high-fiber diet. This would include fruits and vegetables.

Appendicitis treatment

A mild case of appendicitis may be cured with antibiotics alone. Most of the time, surgery is required. This surgery is called an appendectomy. If you require surgery, your doctor will give you antibiotics before the procedure.

There are two types of surgery:

  • Laparoscopic. During this procedure, a surgeon makes several small incisions in your abdomen. They will insert a scope to look inside. The surgeon will use small tools to remove the appendix through the small incisions. This type has a short recovery time.
  • Laparotomy. During this procedure, a surgeon removes your appendix through a single incision in the lower, right abdomen. This requires more recovery time and is often required in more complicated cases of appendicitis.

Patients usually recover well after surgery. You will need to limit physical activity for the first 3 to 5 days after laparoscopic surgery. Limit it for 10 to 14 days after a laparotomy.

If your appendix bursts, surgery and recovery are more complicated. Your surgeon will need to clean the infection that spreads inside your abdomen. If not treated quickly, the infection could lead to serious illness and death.

Living with appendicitis

Appendicitis pain is often progressive and intense. Therefore, most people seek medical attention quickly.

Questions for your doctor

  • How can I tell appendicitis from other stomach problem?
  • What is peritonitis? And how will I know if I have it?
  • What kind of surgery will I need to remove my appendix?
  • Is appendicitis genetic?
  • How much daily fiber should I have to reduce my risk of appendicitis?
  • Can a pregnant woman have appendicitis?