Appendicitis in Children

Learn about appendicitis in children, irritation of the appendix, ruptured appendix, peritonitis, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, care team at Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital.

Appendicitis is a painful irritation of the appendix, which is a narrow, finger-shaped pouch attached to the large intestine in the lower right side of the abdomen. Appendicitis occurs when the pouch becomes filled with something that causes it to swell, such as mucus, stool or parasites. If left untreated, blood supply to the appendix becomes cut off and will lead to rupture. Appendicitis is the most common reason for a child to need emergency surgery.

The most common symptoms of appendicitis are:

  • Abdominal pain around the belly button and lower right-hand side of the abdomen
  • Abdominal pain that may get worse with moving, taking deep breaths, being touched and coughing or sneezing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever and chills
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Abdominal swelling
  • In children, changes in behavior

A ruptured (or burst) appendix can be life-threatening. When the appendix ruptures, bacteria infect the organs inside the abdominal cavity, causing peritonitis. This bacterial infection can spread very quickly and be difficult to treat if diagnosis is delayed.

If you suspect appendicitis, take your child to see a doctor immediately. Do not give your child laxatives or enemas to relieve constipation, as doing so can cause the appendix to burst. Don’t administer pain medication if your child is experiencing appendicitis symptoms, since this can mask other symptoms. Finally, don’t let your child eat or drink, as having an empty stomach speeds preparation for surgery, if needed.

Lehigh Valley Health Network offers care for appendicitis for your child or teen. These services are affiliated with Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital, the region’s only associate member of the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA).

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