Q: How can I tell if my stomach pain is appendicitis?

A: The appendix is a narrow, tube-shaped organ in the lower right abdomen. The appendix does not have a known purpose in the body, although some medical experts theorize that the organ helps with immune function during infancy and childhood.

Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix, usually caused by an infection. Infection in the appendix occurs when stool or another material block the appendix, causing a buildup of bacteria.

Appendicitis is typically seen in young children, teenagers and adults in their early 20s, but the condition can occur at any point in a person’s life.

The majority of patients with appendicitis — 80% — complain of initial pain in the middle abdomen. The pain often radiates to the right lower quadrant of the abdomen. Some patients may have variations of pain in the groin or higher up in the right-upper abdomen.

Other common symptoms of appendicitis include:

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Fever

  • Loss of appetite

  • Diarrhea

Appendicitis can be confused with other conditions due to common shared symptoms.

In women, the classic symptoms of appendicitis can easily be confused with pelvic inflammatory disease, ovarian cysts, or urinary tract infections.

Someone feeling symptoms of appendicitis should seek medical help as soon as possible. Delayed treatment can cause the appendix to perforate and allow infection to travel through the bloodstream, and in severe cases lead to sepsis. Antibiotics and timely surgery are a must; even within 24 hours of onset of symptoms, the appendix can rupture.

Surgery to remove the appendix, called an appendectomy, is the best treatment. This can be performed using minimally invasive surgery (also known as laparoscopic surgery). Appendectomies are among the most common and successful emergency procedures. Appendicitis is rarely treatable without surgery, but researchers are studying potentially conservative, non-operative treatments for uncomplicated appendicitis.

Don’t delay treatment. Early treatment can lead to better health outcomes and lessen the risk of complications or ruptured appendix.

If you are feeling symptoms of appendicitis, seek medical help immediately.

Abhiman Cheeyandira is the chairman of surgery and a bariatric specialist at Nazareth Hospital.