What's up with your stomach, anyway?
Irina Bg/shutterstockEveryone has experienced some kind of stomach problems—maybe a stomach virus or food poisoning, or a run-of-the-mill stomachache or diarrhea. (Check out the top seven causes of stomach pains and what they mean.) Less common, but still important to know about, is appendicitis. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 5 percent of the population ends up with appendicitis. It's most common in teenagers and those in their early twenties. The Mayo Clinic defines appendicitis an inflammation of the appendix, a finger-shaped pouch that projects from your colon on the lower right side of your abdomen.
The key is recognizing the signs, so you can treat it. "If it is not treated, your appendix can rupture, which can be life-threatening," says Jennifer Caudle, DO, a board-certified family physician and assistant professor at Rowan School of Osteopathic Medicine.
9nong/shutterstockAbdominal pain is the most common and often first reported symptom of appendicitis. "The pain is generally located around the umbilicus, aka the belly button, and in about 50 percent of patients, the pain migrates to the right lower quadrant of the abdomen," says Cedrek McFadden, MD a board-certified GI surgeon in both colorectal and general surgery at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville. And while a stomach ache or indigestion is steady pain, with appendicitis, it gets much worse in a matter of hours. It's often described as excruciating pain. (Read more about the causes of stomach pains.)
Pain when going to the bathroom
Sergio Delle Vedove/shutterstock"If the appendix is positioned lower in the pelvis, the patient may have increased urinary frequency, pain with urination, or even diarrhea," notes Dr. McFadden. Sometime, constipation can be the problem. He notes that it depends on the location of the appendix, which is normally in the right lower quadrant, but is different for each person. (Find out what your bowel movements reveal about your health.)
Feeling like you're going to throw up
Alice Day/shutterstock"Nausea and vomiting along with not wanting to eat, usually follow the onset of the abdominal pain," says Dr. McFadden. So if you have severe pain combined with feeling like you are going to throw up, you should head to the doctor. (Here are other reasons you might feel like throwing up.)
Fever and chills
llaszlo/shutterstockA fever is a sign of infection. "A fever combined with chills can be a sign of appendicitis," says Dr. McFadden. A fever means your head is hot, but if you have chills, you can put on a lot of blankets and still feel cold. The combination of hot and cold, combined with the stomach pain is a warning sign. (A fever can be a symptom of other conditions.)
overcrew/shutterstockOf course, people are often gassy (from eating too much fruit, beans and other gas-producing foods) and there's nothing wrong with them. But if you have gas combined with bowel irregularity and indigestion it could be a sign that something is going on with your appendix, days Dr. McFadden. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notes that if it feels like having a BM will relieve the discomfort, but the act does not, then this is a warning sign.
Africa Studio/shutterstockBecause of the pain that appendicitis causes, many people who have it have a hard time moving, says Dr. Caudle. Often, people will curl into a ball in their bed or on the couch, hoping the pain subsides. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notes that it gets worse when you move around, take deep breaths, cough, or sneeze.
wavebreakmedia/shutterstockIf you're experiencing any of the above symptoms, you should go to your doctor or urgent care facility right away. "Appendicitis happens when the appendix is inflamed and is a very serious condition that needs to be treated right away," says Dr. Caudle. "If it is not treated, appendicitis can lead to complications which can include a ruptured appendix, which can be life-threatening."
That's why catching appendicitis early is key. "Signs of appendicitis getting worse include severe pain in the lower right part of the abdomen, rigid abdomen, pain with walking, coughing, or going over bumps in the car. Altered mental status with these signs would be a sign of a severe systemic infection," Dan Gingold, MD, MPH, Academic Fellow and Chief Resident, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine. Surgery is the treatment for appendicitis.