Could it be appendicitis?

elevated view of a man looking at a scar on his stomachPic: Getty

Stomach pain is a not uncommon symptom and is linked to a huge variety of health problems, ranging from the mild to the severe, one of which is appendicitis.

This painful condition usually requires urgent medical attention, commonly resulting in surgery to remove the appendix. Left untreated, the appendix can burst and the results can be life-threatening.

So how do you know when it's appendicitis? Here's what you need to know.

Who is affected?
A relatively common condition, around seven per cent of people in the UK will get appendicitis at some point in their life. It is, however, more common in men than in women, and often occurs in those aged between ten and 20 years old. Those who have an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn's and colitis may also be at greater risk of developing the condition.

Appendicitis often begins with a pain in the middle of the abdomen, which may come and go to begin with. However, the pain will travel to the lower right-hand side of the tummy (where the appendix lies) within hours, and become more constant and more severe. Pressing on the location of the appendix, coughing and walking can worsen the pain, and the sufferer may lose their appetite, experience a high temperature, nausea, constipation or diarrhoea. Should the pain suddenly get much worse and spread across the abdomen, it could be a sign that the appendix has burst, so urgent medical treatment is necessary.

Since the symptoms of appendicitis are similar to those caused by a number of other conditions, diagnosis can prove tricky. Typically though, where the pain has quickly worsened, a doctor will put pressure on the appendix area to see whether the pain is greater. Blood tests and urine tests may also be done if the symptoms are not typical.

Given that a burst appendix is a serious complication, if your doctor believes you have appendicitis, surgery is usually quickly arranged. In most cases, keyhole surgery is carried out using three small cuts to remove the appendix. The majority of patients are able to leave hospital within a few days following this simple procedure, though it may be one or two weeks before they recover fully.

Occasionally open surgery may be necessary, though this is commonly not the first option. If, however, the appendix has burst, the patient has previously had stomach surgery or has tumours in their digestive system, or is in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, this may be the only choice.

A burst appendix can lead to serious problems. If you or a family member is suffering with the above symptoms, do not delay - seek medical help.