Appendicitis is one of the primary causes of childhood surgery and if parents cannot recognize the symptoms quickly, it can lead to a great deal of pain for children and fear for parents.
What is the Appendix?
The appendix is a small pouch, about 4-5 inches long, that rests on the anterior, right side of the body and connects to the large intestine. The appendix is an organ that most physicians believe serves no function because of the lack of symptoms after removal. Researchers theorize that the appendix might be an organ that can reboot the immune system with healthy bacteria after a bout of infection in the digestive system.
How Does the Appendix Become Infected?
When bacteria is trapped in the appendix, the organ becomes inflamed due to antibodies flooding the organ in the hopes of fighting off dangerous infections. Trapped bacteria can be the result of a hard collection of stool or by pressure on the lymph node in the groin. When the bacteria in the appendix are blocked from leaving, the appendix becomes irritated. This is usually when the abdominal pain begins in children.
If the appendix pain is left untreated, the organ will fill up with pus and bacteria and rupture. A ruptured appendix will cause extreme abdominal pain along with other symptoms such as: fever, vomiting, loss of energy and appetite and will need immediate medical attention. If your child is complaining of persistent stomach ache or pain and it hurts to touch their right side of their body, you can be almost sure that their appendix is infected and needs to be removed.
How is Appendicitis Diagnosed?
Appendicitis in children is often the child’s first experience with any kind of surgery. Broken bones, falls and accidents are typical reasons why children visit the emergency room, so if you can recognize that your child is displaying the symptoms of appendicitis, they will be understandably frightened. Try to keep them as calm as possible until a physician can see them.
Once a physician arrives, they will perform one or all of the following tests to determine the extent of the appendix infection. Often, they’ll begin with a physical examination by pressing gently on the area and checking the child’s vitals. After that, a ultrasound will be performed on the child. Ultrasounds use the power of sound waves in order to image the interior of the body. Ultrasounds are totally painless and can help doctors determine the extent of the infection and whether it can be treated and minimized with antibiotics or if surgery is necessary. They may also recommend having a CT scan performed to determine the presence of appendicitis in children. CT scans use the power of X-rays and computer software to create cross-sectional images of the organs and soft tissues of the body. CT scans can be extremely beneficial in pediatric appendicitis cases in order to rule out other causes of abdominal pain like injury or bleeding.
How is Appendicitis Treated?
There are three treatment option for appendicitis in children:
- Removal of the appendix with surgery. Small incisions and laparoscopy are usual methods to remove of appendix. The child will stay in the hospital for 1-2 days and be discharged with antibiotics
- If the appendix is ruptured, surgery is needed immediately. Once the appendix is removed, the child will have to stay in under hospital observation for several days possibly longer than a week to monitor infection or fever.
- Interval appendectomy is treating an appendix infection with antibiotics. As the infection subsides, surgery becomes more an option rather than a necessity.
If you have more questions about diagnosing appendicitis in children or what medical imaging procedures will be performed, please feel free to look at our Ultrasound Service Page or our Pediatric CT Service Page. You can also call our office at 504-833-8111 to speak to a representative from Doctors Imaging about questions or scheduling an appointment.