Appendicitis

What is appendicitis?

Appendicitis is a painful swelling and infection of the appendix (a narrow, finger-like pouch that branches off the large intestine). Doctors are not really sure what the appendix does, but removing it is not harmful. Appendicitis is the most common cause of emergency surgery in childhood.

Appendicitis affects 1 in 1,000 people living in the U.S. Most cases of appendicitis occur between the ages of 10 and 30 years.

Since an infected appendix can rupture and be a life-threatening problem, call your health care provider or go to the emergency room immediately if your child has these symptoms:

  • sudden, pronounced pain around the belly button area
  • in a short period of time, the pain moves to the lower right-hand part of the abdomen and your child may have a difficult time breathing

How we care for appendicitis

Appendicitis can be an emergency situation. The General Surgery Program at Boston Children's Hospital has surgeons ready day and night to diagnose appendicitis and then remove your child's appendix, either before or after it has ruptured.

Appendicitis is the most common childhood surgical emergency, but the diagnosis can be challenging, especially in children, often leading to either unnecessary surgery in children without appendicitis, or a ruptured appendix and serious complications when the condition is missed.

Emergency medicine physicians and scientists at the Proteomics Center at Boston Children's have demonstrated that a protein detectable in urine might serve as a "biomarker" for appendicitis, potentially allowing diagnosis in a matter of minutes.