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The appendix is a fingerlike projection from the base of the large intestine. Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix. Abdominal pain, which usually starts around the belly button and then localizes to the right lower abdomen, is the hallmark of this illness. Often, but not always, fever, vomiting, loss of appetite, and mucusy diarrhea may accompany the abdominal pain. It is most common in teens and young adults.

The diagnosis of appendicitis can often be made by either physical exam alone or physical exam in conjunction with a few simple blood tests. If the diagnosis is less certain, a brief hospitalization with close observation for changes in the abdominal exam may be appropriate. Often times, however, imaging tests such as plain x-rays of the abdomen, ultrasound, or even CAT (computerized axial tomography) scan are used . Of these tests, it is important to remember that a normal plain film and/or normal ultrasound does not effectively rule out the existence of an inflamed appendix. If there is a high clinical suspicion of appendicitis, your physician may choose to use the CAT scan to aid in the diagnosis.

Appendicitis can be complicated by perforation of the appendix (bursting open of the appendix). Perforation is more common in children under the age of 8 years. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, children have trouble verbalizing their symptoms. Secondly, in young children the signs and symptoms of appendicitis may not follow the classic pattern of right lower abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and vomiting.

Appendicitis is considered an emergency and requires surgical treatment.