Appendicitis is an acute condition that can manifest without warning. Suddenly, you experience a bout of symptoms, particularly pain, which can quickly transition from mild to extremely debilitating. But how exactly do you set appendicitis apart from other abdominal or digestion-related ailments? Here's how to tell if you have appendicitis.
Where Does Appendicitis Hurt?
If you talk to people who had appendicitis before, chances are they'll tell you that the pain is the most unforgettable symptom that they experienced. It starts as a gradual onset of dull, cramping or aching pain in the middle of the abdomen, near the bellybutton. Movement also tends to worsen it — simple acts like coughing, sneezing, moving the legs or abdomen or even a bumpy car ride can lead to extreme suffering.1
But unlike the abdominal pain that comes with other ailments, the pain transfers. The appendicitis pain location moves from the center of the abdomen to the lower right part, and becomes more localized and sharp. This is because as the appendix becomes more inflamed and swollen, the lining of the abdominal wall, known as the peritoneum, becomes irritated.2
Once the pain moves to this section of the body, which happens in only a span of a few hours, it becomes more constant and severe. Patients say that it is "unlike any pain that they have experienced," and is often so excruciating that it wakes them up at night.3,4
In some people, appendicitis pain occurs in other areas of the abdomen. For example, pregnant women might experience the pain in the upper right portion of their abdomen, as their appendix changes position to accommodate the growing infant. There are some people whose appendix lies behind their colon — if this is the case, the pain can manifest as lower back pain or pelvic pain.5
Other Signs of Appendicitis to Watch Out For
After the pain manifests, the other symptoms of this ailment arises. These can vary from person to person, depending on the severity or progression of the illness. If you have any of these symptoms, along with the hallmark appendicitis pain, consult your physician immediately:
- Mild fever — The fever that comes with appendicitis can be anywhere between 99 to 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit (37.2 to 38 degrees Celsius), and may come with chills. If the fever has worsened to over 101.5 degrees F (38 degrees C), it might mean that the appendix has already ruptured.
- Nausea and vomiting — Symptoms could be similar to that of a stomach flu. Appendicitis may also cause loss of appetite.
- Constipation or diarrhea — Some people also feel bloated or may have problems passing gas, which indicates a partial or total obstruction in the bowel. Your diarrhea may also have some mucus in it.
- Rebound tenderness — This happens when, after pushing the lower right part of the abdomen and then releasing the pressure, you experience pain. If you have rebound tenderness, do not press on the area again. Instead, consult your physician immediately.
Getting a Proper Appendicitis Diagnosis
Appendicitis can sometimes be tricky to diagnose. This is because only half of all patients have all the typical symptoms. If you experience intense abdominal pain along with the other hallmark signs, your doctor will then conduct several tests to confirm your diagnosis, including:
- Physical examination — Your doctor will check for rebound tenderness, abdominal rigidity and stiffening of your abdominal muscles as a response to applying pressure over the inflamed appendix. He or she will also check your lower rectum, and women may also be given a pelvic exam to check for pain-related gynecological problems.
- Blood test — This will check for elevated white blood cell levels, which may indicate an infection in your body.
- Urine test — This will help rule out bladder infection and other conditions.
- Pregnancy test (for women)
- Abdominal appendicitis ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scan or X-ray — This will help confirm if the appendix is swollen.