Last night was a long night in the Emergency Room, waiting to see if my fourteen year old son was suffering from appendicitis. I had spoken with a nurse on the telephone earlier in the afternoon, and she had advised me to bring him in right away. He had been throwing up everything I gave him for four days. I was afraid, because when I was thirteen, a stomach pain in the morning had become acute appendicitis by the afternoon.
Appendectomies are the most commonly performed surgeries on children in the United States, and the doctors at the hospital told me that the teen years are “prime time” for this serious condition. Here’s what to look for when you’re making the parental decision whether to take action or let a benign stomach bug take its course.
Is it stomach flu or appendicitis?
Gastroenteritis, or stomach flu, is common among children during flu season. Normally it resolves in a day or two. If the vomiting and diarrhea is accompanied by stomach pain that does not go away, pay attention. Fever, loss of appetite, the frequent urge to urinate or respiratory symptoms are reasons to call a doctor. If what appears to be stomach flu persists for more than a couple of days, be on the watch for these symptoms and have your child evaluated.
Where is the pain, and is it constant?
When I had appendicitis, I was in the Seattle Opera House with my french class, enjoying the opera Rigoletto. When the pain began, I told myself that it was not on the right, so it couldn’t be appendicitis. I was wrong! Often appendicitis pain begins right at the center of the belly, and moves to the right only when the condition is becoming acute. When the nurse was evaluating my son over the telephone, she asked me to poke him on the right side of his stomach. He flinched, and I was told to bring him in.
What is appendicitis?
Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix, which is a tiny organ attached to the end of the intestines, on the lower right side of the abdomen. If it becomes inflamed, the danger is that it will burst and spread infection throughout the body.
Appendicitis can quickly escalate to a medical emergency if not addressed immediately. The solution is surgery right away, to remove the appendix before it has a chance to rupture. While we were waiting for the results of blood tests, the nurses prepared my son for a CT scan in case it would be needed for a clearer diagnosis. After a lot of tummy prodding by several specialists and some normal test results, it was decided not to expose him to radiation needlessly. The diagnosis process is difficult, and 100% accuracy is a goal that has not yet been achieved.
If you suspect appendicitis, seek medical attention without delay.
A ruptured appendix is a medical emergency. If you think your child may have appendicitis, seek medical attention immediately. Give your child nothing to eat or drink until appendicitis has been ruled out and it is clear that surgery will not be necessary.
Fortunately for us, a couple of bags of intravenous fluids with anti-nausea medicine made him feel much better while we were waiting for the doctors to evaluate him. After all his blood work came back normal and he wanted food, he was sent home with instructions for us to watch him closely for the next few days.
Today he wants macaroni and cheese. I am beginning to feel relieved!
More from Elizabeth Danu:
Tips for Avoiding Teen Headaches
How Controlling Inflammation Can Halt Cancer
The Dangers of Calcium and Vitamin D Supplements