Appendicitis is the most common childhood emergency that must be treated immediately. However, it’s important to know that many conditions have symptoms similar to appendicitis but don’t require surgery.
The appendix is a small organ attached to the large intestine. Appendicitis is swelling or infection in the appendix. Appendicitis usually develops over 12 to 24 hours.
Download our appendicitis guide for parents.
First your child will be seen in the emergency department (ED) by a nurse and doctor trained in pediatric emergency medicine. If necessary, your child will have tests that include blood work and a urinalysis.
Your child’s pain will be managed with intravenous (IV) pain medication. Your child will not be allowed to eat or drink and may receive fluids through an intravenous line.
Members of the pediatric surgical team will examine your child to help determine whether your child has appendicitis or another condition.
We will perform a painless ultrasound on your child and the ultrasound images will be read by pediatric radiology doctors with advanced training in imaging children. Usually, ultrasound is the only imaging required but sometimes an MRI may be needed as well.
Once appendicitis is suspected, your child will be admitted to pediatric surgery. If your child has signs of severe infection or a bowel obstruction, emergency surgery will be performed. In some cases, IV antibiotics are given first and the operation is performed after that.
Research conducted at Hasbro Children’s Hospital has shown that children do not rupture their appendix during the assessment of the condition or while they wait for their operation. Rather, most children with perforated appendicitis come to the hospital after having symptoms for a longer period of time. This is especially true in young children younger than 5 years old.
Appendectomies are performed laparoscopically using a camera with 1 to 3 small incisions or through a single small incision in the right lower side of the abdomen.
Children who undergo appendectomies for routine appendicitis are usually in the hospital for 24-48 hours. Generally, a liquid diet is started the morning after the appendectomy and is eventually advanced to a regular diet. Pain medicine is switched from IV to oral form and your child will be helped out of bed to walk around the floor. If your child is able to eat solid food, has little or no pain with oral pain medication and has no fever, then your child will be discharged to go home. There is no need for additional antibiotics.
Children with perforated appendicitis are usually in the hospital for 5 to 7 days for IV antibiotics to help prevent additional infection or an abscess. If the ruptured appendix caused widespread spillage of infection during the operation, a nasogastric tube may be left in the nose. This tube is used to suction air and fluid from the stomach to prevent vomiting until the intestines have recovered from the infection and operation.
Once the nasogastric tube is removed and the intestines show signs of recovery, a liquid diet can be tried. Eventually, regular food can be given.
Once your child is eating regular food and has little or no pain with pain medications, and has no signs of infection or fever, your child can be discharged to home without antibiotics.