Appendicitis In Children: Symptoms, Hazards, and Treatment

If you have a child, then you likely keep an eye on them to watch for signs of common childhood illnesses, such as colds and skin conditions, that may require treatment. However, you may not realize that you should watch for the signs of appendicitis in your child due to a belief that only adults can develop this medical problem.

The truth is that an average of 70,000 children in the United States develop appendicitis, which is an infection of the appendix, every year, and this infection can be deadly if not treated soon after it develops. 

Read on to learn more about appendicitis in children, including the signs of this serious infection, its hazards, and treatment. 

Appendicitis Symptoms

While a child of any age and gender can develop appendicitis, a child is slightly more likely to be diagnosed with this condition if they are male and someone else in the family experienced appendicitis in the past. 

In children under the age of 2, the most common signs of appendicitis are vomiting and abdominal swelling. However, in older children, you can also watch for the following symptoms: 

  • Abdominal pain in the center or lower-right portion of the stomach
  • Nausea, lack of appetite, and/or vomiting
  • Fever
  • Need to urinate frequently

Untreated Appendicitis Hazards

At the first signs of appendicitis, you should take your child to the closest emergency room. If appendicitis is not treated soon after it begins developing, the appendix can burst and spread infectious bacteria to other areas of your child's body. Most often, a burst appendix causes an abdominal infection called peritonitis or life-threatening infection of the bloodstream called sepsis.

Appendicitis Treatment

After the emergency room physician officially diagnoses your child with appendicitis, a pediatric surgeon will prepare to remove your child's appendix surgically. 

Typically, a child's appendix is removed with either an open or laparoscopic appendectomy. 

During an open appendectomy, the pediatric surgeon makes an incision in your child's lower right abdomen, removes the appendix, and then places sutures in the original incision site. This procedure can be performed before or after an appendix burst. 

A laparoscopic appendectomy requires the placement of several small incisions in the abdomen instead of one large one. After these incisions are made, a special camera called a laparoscope is used to guide the pediatric surgeon as they remove the appendix. This procedure can typically only be performed on an appendix that has not burst and has a faster recovery period than an open appendectomy. 

An alternative appendectomy procedure called an interval appendectomy is sometimes performed when an appendix has burst and created an abdominal abscess. Before this procedure is performed, a child is typically provided antibiotics for 10 to 14 days to eliminate the infection the burst appendix has caused. Then, after a several week recovery period, the pediatric surgeon performs an appendectomy. 

If you are a parent, then you should know the signs of childhood appendicitis so you can take your child to the nearest emergency room or pediatric surgeon at the first sign of this potentially life-threatening infection.