What Is Appendicitis?

Appendicitis is a condition in which the appendix, a finger-shaped pouch that opens into the large intestine, becomes swollen and filled with pus. Appendicitis can be caused by a bacterial infection or by blockage from a swollen intestine or a piece of stool.

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Symptoms

Symptoms of appendicitis in children include:

  • Constant pain in the belly—especially near the belly button and lower right side
  • Belly pain that increases when walking or touching the lower side of the belly
  • Vomiting after complaining of pain
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fussy behavior in toddlers and small children

Pus from an infected appendix can build up and create a hole, also known as ruptured or perforated appendicitis, causing infection to spread throughout the stomach. Contact your child’s health care provider or take your child to the emergency room immediately if he or she shows symptoms of appendicitis.

Treatment

Your child’s health care provider may determine that your child needs an appendectomy to remove the appendix. Health care professionals will give your child antibiotics through an IV and anesthesia before the surgery. The antibiotics will stop the spread of infection and the anesthesia will put your child to sleep—your child won’t feel any pain during surgery.

Most often, surgeons will use a laparascopic procedure to remove the appendix. This means that several small openings will be made in your child’s belly to allow the surgeon to pull the appendix out.

Recovery from Appendicitis Surgery

The day after surgery, your child will need to breathe deeply and walk around to help the intestine work properly again. The medical team may give your child an IV for pain medication, antibiotics, and other fluids.

Your child will be allowed to go home when he or she is eating and drinking normally. The length of stay in the hospital depends on whether or not your child’s appendix ruptured. If it didn’t rupture, expect to go home that same day. If it did rupture, expect to be in the hospital for three to seven days. Some children get a second infection called an abscess if their appendix perforated, so the extended stay is important.

Diet

Your child will be allowed to drink clear liquids by mouth after surgery. Many children feel queasy and even throw up after surgery, so it might take some time for your child to be able to drink other liquids or to eat by mouth. When your child is ready for a normal diet, he or she may be able to take medicine by mouth. Your child can eat a normal diet when you get home.

Incision Care

Care of the incision site is another important part of your child’s recovery. Doctors will use Steri-stripsTM and Dermabond® to help your child's incisions heal. Leave the Steri-stripsTM and Dermabond® in place for as long as possible. The site will be covered with waterproof glue or paper tape and topped with a sterile bandage. The tape or glue will fall off on its own within two weeks. Hospital staff will teach you how to take care of your child’s incision before you go home.

Your child can take a shower two days after surgery. Your child should not take a bath or go swimming for one week after surgery because the incision site can’t be soaked or submerged until then.

Medications

Your child probably won’t need prescription pain medicine after surgery, but some providers prescribe it. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen will probably be enough to keep your child’s pain under control. Be sure to follow the dosage guidelines on the medication packaging.

Exercise and Physical Activity

Your child can go back to school two days after surgery. Your child should avoid activities that aggravate pain to the abdomen until he or she starts to feel better.

Seek Immediate Care

Contact your doctor if your child experiences:

  • A temperature higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Pain that won’t go away with the help of medication
  • Green or yellow vomit, bloody diarrhea, or diarrhea that lasts more than a week
  • Signs of dehydration (dry mouth, no urine, or small amounts of dark urine)
  • Redness, drainage, swelling, or tenderness at the incision site