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Diagnosing Appendicitis

The appendix is a small, pouch-like protrusion from the colon. There has long been debate regarding the purpose of this organ, but there is no debate that it is capable of causing some serious problems. Appendicitis occurs when this small organ becomes inflamed and filled with pus. If appendicitis remains untreated, the appendix can rupture, causing serious – and sometimes deadly – illness.

The symptoms of appendicitis can be somewhat generic and can change, which presents some difficulty in diagnosing the illness. The most widely known symptoms are those that relate to abdominal pain – an aching in the abdomen that progresses into sharper pain in the lower right portion of the abdomen, abdominal pain that increases with mild activity, tenderness in the abdomen, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and vomiting are all common, as is low-grade favor. So how does a doctor determine if you have appendicitis instead of, for example, a stomach flu? Some common methods include:

  • Physical Examination – This will likely be the doctor’s first form of examination if appendicitis is suspected. The doctor may gently apply pressure to the patient’s abdomen. While this may be uncomfortable or even painful for the patient, the doctor is likely seeing to determine if the pain increases when the pressure is suddenly removed, an indicator of inflammation in the peritoneal cavity, in which the appendix lies. The doctor may also check for rigidity as well as reflexively tightening the muscles when pressure is applied over the appendix, an attempt to guard the organ from further pain.

  • Blood Test – The doctor may order a blood test to determine the white blood cell count. An elevated level of white blood cells may indicate an infection is present.

  • Urine Test – Urinalysis may rule out of other causes of abdominal pain, such as kidney stones or urinary tract infection.

  • Imaging Tests – The doctor may order an abdominal X-ray, ultrasound, or an computerized tomography (CT) to confirm a suspected case of appendicitis.

Once appendicitis has been diagnosed, the doctor will determine the best course of treatment, which may include surgery to remove the appendix.