Last night, a patient called me and wondered if their daughter had appendicitis. I always thought it would be the easiest diagnosis, and that we would call the surgeon and whisk the patient off to the operating room for an appendectomy, just like Madeline (one of my favorite books as a child). Well, over the years have I been taught a few things.
At times the diagnosis is easy. The patient has the classic symptoms of a “tummy ache” that starts around the belly button, they may vomit a few times and have a fever and the parent in all of us thinks, “yuk, another one of those tummy viruses”. But over several hours the tummy aches worsens, and moves from around the belly button (peri-umbilical) to the right lower quadrant and the nausea and vomiting persist and your child just looks SICKER.
At the same time you may notice that they have a funny walk, and won’t stand up straight, as they try to get to the bathroom and when possible, they move very little at all, as any movement makes the pain worse. This is classic appendicitis. For a parent, that means a phone call to the pediatrician, day or night, as that child needs to be examined.
On the other hand some children just forgot to read Nelson’s text book of pediatrics. They don’t vomit, they may not have a fever, they are a little nauseated, but when pressed could still eat, and it only hurts in their right lower quadrant, everything else is just okay. These are the difficult cases to diagnose. These children require a lot more history, repeat exams and lab tests and may even need a CAT scan to look at their appendix.
But, you don’t want to miss an appendicitis, as a perforated appendix is serious and requires a lengthy hospitalization. So as a parent and a doctor, if your child’s tummy ache seems to be getting worse, it may be worth a trip to the doctor to feel that tummy, run a few tests and decide how to proceed. It is not always as easy as in a book or on TV.
That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat tomorrow!