5 Sneaky Signs Of Appendicitis You Shouldn't Ignore

Abdomen pain isn't the only red flag. Pay attention to these other, more subtle symptoms.

Our appendix, a thin tube positioned where our small intestine meets our large intestine, is a perplexing organ. In fact, many believe it to be rather useless, offering no real perks for our health. But when something goes wrong with your appendix, it can lead to appendicitis ― and the pain can be unbearable.

Appendicitis is essentially when the appendix becomes blocked, swollen or infected. It commonly affects people between the ages of 10 and 30, with 8.6% of men and 6.7% of women being diagnosed in their lifetime.

The good news is that, with “modern technology and healthcare, appendicitis is no longer a life-threatening illness,” said Dr. Kiran Turaga, a professor of surgery at Yale School of Medicine.

However, about half of people with appendicitis don’t have the typical presentation of symptoms, which include specific pain, fever and vomiting. This is specifically seen among kids, pregnant women and elderly seniors.

We spoke to physicians about what may emerge as sneaky signs of appendicitis and what to do if you need to seek help:

Pain in the lower right side of abdomen

Since the appendix is located in the lower right portion of your body, you may experience pain concentrated in that area.

“The pain typically starts near the belly button and then moves to the lower right abdomen, becoming sharper and more severe over time,” said Dr. Kristy Ziontz, an emergency medicine physician at Hackensack Meridian Health Bayshore Medical Center.

The pain may also feel like a period cramp or radiate toward the hip, Turaga said.

Constipation or diarrhoea

According to Dr. Supriya Rao, a gastroenterologist and director of weight loss at Lowell General Hospital, patients experiencing appendicitis may experience constipation or diarrhoea. These can be unexpected symptoms you’ll want to pay attention to, Rao said.

Lower back pain

It’s normal to feel like the pain isn’t going away. The bad news, however, is that pain can also extend toward the right side of the back, Rao said. This can mimic the discomfort that occurs with spine issues or other chronic back problems. Some people may even experience this pain in their hamstring or rectum.

Loss of appetite

If you notice that you don’t have the same desire to eat as you used to, then chances are you’re experiencing a loss of appetite. This is often an early sign of appendicitis, according to Turaga.

Pain with movement

Another unexpected sign could be pain when moving around.

“Pain from appendicitis will not go away on its own and usually gets worse with movement such as bending over, sneezing or coughing,” Rao said.

Abdominal pain is a big sign of appendicitis — but it's not the only one.
LaylaBird via Getty Images
Abdominal pain is a big sign of appendicitis — but it's not the only one.

What to do if you’re experiencing these symptoms

“If you believe you may have appendicitis but are not sure, it is always helpful to run the symptoms by your primary care doctor or paediatrician,” Rao said.

However, if you have high fevers and severe abdominal pain, you may want to visit the emergency room to see a specialist right away. Clinicians will evaluate you by doing a history intake, a physical exam and ordering any bloodwork or imaging that may be needed, Ziontz explained.

Appendicitis left untreated can cause perforation and sepsis, Turaga said, both of which can be serious. While treatment options vary, sometimes surgery may be needed, and if so, a referral to a surgeon will be made.