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Appendicitis is a painful swelling and infection of the appendix, which is a fingerlike pouch attached to the large intestine and located in the lower right area of the abdomen.
Obstruction of the appendiceal lumen causes appendicitis. Mucus backs up in the appendiceal lumen, causing bacteria that normally live inside the appendix to multiply. As a result, the appendix swells and becomes infected. Sources of obstruction include
An inflamed appendix will likely burst if not removed. Bursting spreads infection throughout the abdomen—a potentially dangerous condition called peritonitis.
Most people with appendicitis have classic symptoms that a doctor can easily identify. The main symptom of appendicitis is abdominal pain, which usually
Other symptoms of appendicitis may include
Symptoms vary and can mimic other sources of abdominal pain, including
Details about the abdominal pain are key to diagnosing appendicitis. The doctor will assess pain by touching or applying pressure to specific areas of the abdomen.
Responses that may indicate appendicitis include
Women of childbearing age may be asked to undergo a pelvic exam to rule out gynecological conditions, which sometimes cause abdominal pain similar to appendicitis.
The doctor may also examine the rectum, which can be tender from appendicitis.
Blood tests are used to check for signs of infection, such as a high white blood cell count. Blood tests may also show dehydration or fluid and electrolyte imbalances. Urinalysis is used to rule out a urinary tract infection. Doctors may also order a pregnancy test for women.
Computerized tomography (CT) scans, which create cross-sectional images of the body, can help diagnose appendicitis and other sources of abdominal pain. Ultrasound is sometimes used to look for signs of appendicitis, especially in people who are thin or young. An abdominal x ray is rarely helpful in diagnosing appendicitis but can be used to look for other sources of abdominal pain. Women of childbearing age should have a pregnancy test before undergoing x rays or CT scanning. Both use radiation and can be harmful to a developing fetus. Ultrasound does not use radiation and is not harmful to a fetus.