It can happen when you least expect it—your child begins to complain of abdominal pain, and you hope it’s just a simple belly ache or muscle strain. But did you know that appendicitis is the most common cause of emergency abdominal surgery in children? Though it can happen at any age, appendicitis occurs most frequently in school-aged children.
WHAT IS APPENDICITS AND WHAT CAUSES IT?
The appendix is a thin tube that is joined to the large intestine. It sits in the lower right part of your belly (abdomen).
Appendicitis is an infection or inflammation of the appendix. Appendicitis may be caused by various infections such as a virus, bacteria, or parasites in your digestive tract. It also may happen when the appendix is blocked or trapped by mucus or stool. When any of these happen, the appendix becomes sore and swollen. The blood supply to the appendix stops as the swelling and soreness gets worse. Without enough blood flow, the appendix starts to die. The appendix can burst or develop holes or tears in its walls, which allows stool, mucus, and infection to leak out into the belly. This is called “perforation” and can lead to a serious infection called “peritonitis”.
The signs and symptoms of appendicitis can vary from child to child. The most common symptom of appendicitis in children include abdominal pain that begins around the belly button and moves to the right lower side of the abdomen. The pain typically increases when walking, jumping, or coughing, and usually worsens as time goes on. Other symptoms include:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
TESTING FOR APPENDICITIS
Appendicitis is diagnosed with a physical examination by a doctor. Your child may undergo bloodwork and have a complete blood count (CBC) done, to determine the extent of the infection. Your child may also need to have an ultrasound, MRI or CT scan to see the appendix.
If your child is diagnosed with appendicitis, they typically will receive antibiotics to begin treatment of the infection. In most cases, the treatment for appendicitis is surgery to remove the infected appendix. This procedure is called an “appendectomy”. If the appendix has not burst, recovery from an appendectomy may only take a few days. If the appendix has burst, the recovery time will be longer and your child may need antibiotics for a longer time period.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING AN APPENDECTOMY?An appendectomy occurs in an operating room while your child is asleep under sedation. Usually, the appendix can be removed using the laparoscopic method. This method uses several small cuts (incisions) and a camera (laparoscope) to look inside your belly. The surgical tools are placed through a few of these small incisions. The laparoscope is placed through another incision. A laparoscopy can often be done even if the appendix has burst, but sometimes the traditional “open” method may be needed, where a larger incision is made in the right lower part of the abdomen to remove the appendix. The surgical approach used will be based on your child’s condition. With most procedures, the sutures placed during surgery to close the incisions are internal, dissolvable, and invisible from the outside. On the external surface, the incisions are covered and protected with waterproof surgical glue and possibly a small piece of tape or gauze. The standard length of stay in the hospital is 1 day if there are no complications.