Health Insurance Online
Phone Icon
Call now to speak with a Licensed agent (866) 954-1892

Insurance Type:

Kids and Health Care: Bellyaches or Appendicitis?

Bellyaches are one of the most common complaints in childhood, and among the most worrisome for parents. The causes range from simple stomach upset to appendicitis.

We mentioned appendicitis in Chapter 13 when we talked about common childhood ailments. Except for injuries, appendicitis is the most common cause for emergency surgery in children and adolescents. About 70,000 appendectomies are performed on children in the U.S. each year, and among children under 14 years old, as many as one child in 250 will require the operation each year.

Although appendicitis is common, it is frequently misdiagnosed in children. This is particularly true if signs and symptoms are vague or if a child is not good at communicating the complaint. However, early diagnosis of appendicitis is important. If diagnosis is delayed, the appendix will rupture, leading to a longer hospitalization and increased likelihood of complications.

Diagnostic imaging -- ultrasound and CT scans -- can help physicians and surgeons make (or exclude) the diagnosis of appendicitis in children where appendicitis is suspected. Yet, as a parent, there are several signs of appendicitis that you can look for.

The first sign of appendicitis: pain that appears to be coming from the area around the navel (belly button). If your child has this symptom, look for:

  • worsening abdominal pain that is, at first, colicky and intermittent, then continuous as it gradually worsens in intensity over a number of hours.
  • pain that is different from anything that the child has experienced or you have witnessed before.
  • the child's preference to remain curled up in bed (may also refuse to walk or walk with difficulty).
  • loss of appetite and nausea and/or vomiting. (Vomiting typically begins after the belly pain, rather than before.)
  • bowel movements, in which the volume of stool is not great, in contrast to the larger watery bowel movements typical of intestinal virus infections (gastroenteritis.)
  • pain that may (but not always) move to the right lower corner of the abdomen.

Seek the advice of your child's physician as early as possible when you suspect appendicitis.

It is best to have the appendix removed before it ruptures and spills its bacteria and infected fluid into the abdominal cavity. This spread of infection to the abdominal cavity is called peritonitis. Peritonitis is much more serious. A ruptured appendix with peritonitis may even necessitate more than one operation before full recovery.

It is estimated that only 10 percent of appendices rupture in the first 24 hours of the illness but that the majority have ruptured by the end of the second day. The older your child, the more likely he or she will be diagnosed with appendicitis -- and the appendix removed -- before it has ruptured. In a younger child, despite the best efforts of parents and skilled physicians, it is often not possible to suspect and diagnose appendicitis before rupture.

Google Plus One