Appendicitis - Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms

Pain first, vomiting next and fever last has been described as the classic presentation of acute appendicitis. Since the innervation of the appendix enters the spinal cord at the level T10, the same level as the umbilicus (belly button), the pain begins mid-abdomen. Later, as the appendix becomes more inflamed and irritates the adjoining abdominal wall, it tends to localize over several hours into the right lower quadrant, except in children under three years. This pain can be elicited through various signs and can be severe. Signs include localized findings in the right iliac fossa. The abdominal wall becomes very sensitive to gentle pressure (palpation). Also, there is severe pain on sudden release of deep pressure in the lower abdomen (rebound tenderness). In case of a retrocecal appendix (appendix localized behind the cecum), however, even deep pressure in the right lower quadrant may fail to elicit tenderness (silent appendix), the reason being that the cecum, distended with gas, protects the inflamed appendix from the pressure. Similarly, if the appendix lies entirely within the pelvis, there is usually complete absence of abdominal rigidity. In such cases, a digital rectal examination elicits tenderness in the rectovesical pouch. Coughing causes point tenderness in this area (McBurney's point) and this is the least painful way to localize the inflamed appendix. If the abdomen on palpation is also involuntarily guarded (rigid), there should be a strong suspicion of peritonitis, requiring urgent surgical intervention.

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