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The Children’s Hospital Q & A: Stomach Pain or Appendicitis?

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Every month, Mile High Mamas features a Q & A from The Children’s Hospital on a different health topic. This month’s topic is all about knowing the difference between your child’s stomach pain and appendicitis. Learn how to tell distinguish a tummy ache from potential inflammation of the appendix.

Appendicitis typically affects children between the ages 11 to 20. If left untreated, the condition can have serious consequences — including the spread of infection due to rupturing — which is why parents should know the difference between stomach pain and something potentially more serious.

What is appendicitis?

Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix, a small organ within the digestive tract. Although it is one of childhood’s most distressing medical concerns, with early diagnosis appendicitis is a very treatable problem.

How is it different from a run-of-the-mill stomachache?

“It can be hard for parents to recognize the symptoms of appendicitis because they also can occur with common conditions like stomach viruses,” said Lalit Bajaj, MD, MPH, research director of emergency medicine at The Children’s Hospital.

The following symptoms can indicate appendicitis:

* Significant abdominal pain, especially around the bellybutton or in the lower right part of the abdomen (this is the biggest differentiator from an ordinary stomach virus)
* A low-grade fever
* Loss of appetite
* Nausea and vomiting
* Diarrhea (especially small amounts, with mucus)
* Frequent urination and/or an abnormally strong urge to urinate
* Swollen or bloated abdomen, especially in infants

Should we see a pediatric specialist for appendicitis?

Diagnosing appendicitis in children can be tricky, especially if they have difficulty explaining their symptoms. “Specialists in a pediatric ER can best determine if a case requires immediate surgery or imaging to get a closer view. We also provide age-appropriate radiation dosages if imaging is necessary,” Dr. Bajaj said. “A child’s anatomy also requires different drug doses and fluid management – why is why a pediatric specialist really is the best choice.” Learn why kids need a children’s hospital.

My child has appendicitis – now what?

A combination of symptom evaluation, a physical exam, lab studies and medical imaging may be used to diagnose appendicitis. To treat the condition, a pediatric surgeon usually performs an appendectomy (an operation to remove the appendix), which is a minimally invasive procedure completed through tiny incisions. Dissolvable stitches are used to close the incision, and if the appendix did not rupture prior to surgery, patients may return home within one or two days. Antibiotics and a longer recovery period may be necessary if the appendix ruptures.

Read more about appendicitis treatment at The Children’s Hospital.

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