Your frequent questions answered by the experts at Nationwide Children's Hospital

Q: One of my daughter's friends recently had her appendix removed. Her symptoms came on so quickly and she had to be rushed to the doctor. I had no idea appendicitis could happen so fast. What exactly is appendicitis, and do people really need their appendix removed if they have it? A: The appendix is a small finger-like organ that is attached to the large intestine in the lower right side of the abdomen. When the opening to the appendix gets blocked, it swells and causes pain. This is appendicitis. The appendix can be blocked by trapped debris such as stool or food, or it can be blocked from swollen lymph nodes if a person has an infection. If the blockage at the opening to the appendix is not relieved, then the appendix continues to swell and can rupture. Appendicitis requires immediate medical attention because if the infected appendix isn't removed, it can burst and spread bacteria and infection throughout the abdomen, leading to serious health problems. Surgeons will perform an appendectomy if the appendix needs to be removed. The symptoms of appendicitis start with a mild fever and belly pain, and can be accompanied by vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. The belly pain usually worsens and often times moves to the lower right side of the abdomen. Infants and young children aren't able to verbalize that the pain is in the belly, so abdominal bloating, fever and vomiting may be the only signs. If you ever suspect that your child has appendicitis, call your doctor immediately and don't give your child any pain medication or anything to eat or drink unless instructed to by the doctor. The earlier it's caught, the easier it will be to treat. -Dr. Katherine Deans is a pediatric surgeon at Nationwide Children's Hospital and a Principle Investigator at the Center for Innovation in Pediatric Practice at Nationwide Children's.