Do you know what it feels like to have appendicitis? I didn’t either.
I was attending my first year of college, living alone in a studio apartment in the big city and taking a full load of classes while working two part-time jobs to pay rent and support my cat. While I was lying on the couch watching Netflix one night, a dull pain started in my stomach. I figured it was just stress or maybe menstrual cramps. As a woman, I’m used to stomach pains because they hit me every month for at least three days. A little stomach pain is nothing.
But the pain gradually got worse, which was a little different than the norm. It made it painful to move or breathe. I grimaced as the pain escalated. I thought about going to the emergency department, but I instantly doubted myself.
What if I get there and find out that it’s just gas? That would be so embarrassing, was just one of the many doubts going through my mind.
I was a nineteen-year-old who had grown up in a no-nonsense family that believed if you’re not dying then you’re probably fine. I had never been to the emergency department and I didn’t think I was qualified to make this decision. So I spoke to three different mothers (mine, my grandma, and my best friend’s) and finally decided to go.
Once I arrived, I went through four hours of waiting in the emergency department, four different tests and a lot of medications before they diagnosed me with appendicitis.
I almost didn’t go to the Emergency Department
As a female who gets menstrual cramps once a month and has had stomach aches pretty regularly my whole life, I just assumed it was normal stomach pain that would go away. I was used to stomach pain and doubted that it could actually be something like appendicitis.
That’s why it’s so important to know the difference between everyday stomach pains that don’t require a hospital visit and something like appendicitis, which can be very dangerous.
What even is appendicitis?
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), appendicitis is inflammation of your appendix. Untreated appendicitis can rupture, which can cause you to become very ill with a fever, nausea, severe tenderness in your abdomen, and vomiting.
Appendicitis can have more than one cause, and in many cases, the cause is not clear. Some possible causes are:
- Blockage of the opening inside the appendix
- Enlarged tissue in the wall of your appendix caused by an infection in the gastrointestinal tract or elsewhere in your body
- Inflammatory bowel disease, stool, parasites, or growths that can clog your appendiceal lumen
- Trauma to your abdomen
So, how do you know when the pain in your stomach is appendicitis?
There are some classic signs and symptoms of appendicitis, but it is important to know that people can present very differently with this condition. When your appendix is inflamed, it can cause a pain in your abdomen that starts near your belly button and moves lower and to the right side. The pain can come on suddenly and can gradually get worse over several hours. Something that the doctor will do is push into the right lower side of your abdomen. This will cause a pain in the area.
If you’re still unsure, there are other symptoms of appendicitis that can follow the pain. Those symptoms can include:
- Pain that worsens if you cough, walk or make other jarring movements
- Nausea and vomiting
- A loss of appetite
- A low-grade fever that may worsen as the illness progresses
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Abdominal bloating
There are other medical conditions that can also lead to similar symptoms. Since appendicitis can be difficult to diagnose, call your medical provider to discuss any unusual abdominal pain that you are experiencing. Your medical provider can help you to determine the next best steps in diagnosing the source of your pain.
Get treatment, even when you’re unsure
Appendicitis is a medical condition that requires timely care. A doctor can help treat appendicitis and reduce symptoms and the chance of complications. It’s better to be safe and find out it’s just gas, than to have your appendix rupture and end up in a lot more pain than before. If you have appendicitis, it is vital that you are treated. If I had listened to my doubts that it was just cramps or gas, I would have ended up very ill and spending a lot more time in the hospital.
Know the difference between your usual stomach pains and a pain that feels unusual. Trust your instincts and seek the guidance of a medical provider in getting the care that you need.