According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), appendicitis is less common in children under six years of age than it is in older children and adults but it isn't unheard of. No matter what age your child is, pay attention to complaints and signs of abdominal pain and err on the side of caution if your child has a severe stomachache that doesn't go away.
The appendix is a small, finger-like organ that attaches to the large intestine. Located in the lower right hand quadrant of the abdomen, the appendix serves no distinguishable purpose and unless it becomes infected, it goes unnoticed. The portion of the appendix that meets the large intestine is an open tube. Rarely, a small amount of faeces may become lodged in the opening of the appendix and harden, resulting in blockage, swelling and infection. In some cases, physicians are unable to determine the cause of the infected organ.
An older child may complain of cramping or a dull pain around the navel that extends downwards, toward the lower right side of the abdomen. A younger child may hold his stomach, curl up and cry. Nausea or vomiting may accompany the pain, making parents think stomach flu or food poisoning is the culprit. In addition, a low-grade fever and diarrhoea may be present.
As the child's appendicitis continues to swell, the pain becomes intense. In children under two years of age, uncontrollable crying and a swollen abdomen may be present. Since these are also symptoms of other serious disorders, immediate medical treatment is imperative. Older children may be able to express the severity of the pain. Within one to three days of the onset of the child's symptoms, an infected appendix may burst, spreading infection into the abdominal cavity. If this occurs, the child's fever may spike.
Symptoms of appendicitis in a child are a medical emergency. An infected appendix will not heal by itself and your doctor will want to schedule surgery as soon as possible to remove it before it ruptures. Once your child reaches the hospital or clinic, your doctor will perform an abdominal exam and he may order a CAT scan, X-rays, blood tests and a urine test to determine if the appendix is infected.
An inflamed appendix may burst if it is not removed. When this happens, the situation becomes more dangerous as the infection from the ruptured appendix spreads throughout the abdominal cavity. With modern antibiotic treatments, a ruptured appendix is usually treatable, although it can still be a deadly complication.
Surgery to remove an inflamed appendix is relatively simple and your child may leave the hospital within two or three days with instructions on how to recuperate at home. If the appendix ruptured before surgery, your child will remain in the hospital until your doctor feels the infection is under control.