What is appendicitis?

The appendix is a small, finger-like pouch that extends from the large intestine on the lower right side of the abdomen. While it has no specific function, it can sometimes become inflamed (swollen and irritated) due to a blockage, such as by stool (bowel), or due to an infection. In some cases, a tumor may be causing the blockage. Inflammation of the appendix is called appendicitis, an emergency condition requiring immediate medical attention. If the condition goes untreated, the appendix can rupture or burst, allowing infection to spread throughout the abdomen and leading to a life-threatening condition called peritonitis.

Symptoms of appendicitis

The first sign of appendicitis is often a dull pain around the belly button that typically moves to the lower right abdomen, becoming a sharp pain within 12 to 24 hours after it first started. Other symptoms may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Fever
  • Severe cramps

Diagnosis and testing of appendicitis

Because the symptoms of appendicitis are similar to those of other conditions, such as Crohn's disease, gastritis and urinary tract infections, it’s not always easy to diagnose. Your doctor will begin with a physical examination. People with appendicitis often feel immediate pain when pressure is applied on the lower right abdomen. Additional testing may include blood and urine tests, as well as a CT scan and ultrasound. When appendicitis is present, a blood test will often show a high white blood cell count (the body’s way of fighting infection). The urine test is to rule out urinary tract infection while CT can determine if there is an abscess (pus-filled mass). If an abscess is found, you may be given antibiotics to fight infection.


Surgical Care

General surgeons are doctors who are board certified as specialists in many different types of surgery. At Main Line Health, our general surgeons are an important part of your care team.

Emergency Medicine

Take comfort in knowing that the Emergency Care Team at Main Line Health is here for you when you need us most to provide compassionate care as quickly as possible.


Main Line Health gastroenterology works to resolve digestive issues and GI conditions. Find the right solution for your digestive conditions at one of our Philadelphia locations.