Appendix: Location, Function, Pain, and Symptoms of Appendicitis

Appendix: Location, Function, Pain, and Symptoms of Appendicitis
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Your appendix is a small pouch-like sac located on the lower right side of your abdomen. An inflamed appendix is called appendicitis and will cause mild to severe right-sided abdominal pain. It is important to know the location of your appendix and the warning signs of appendicitis at it can quickly become a medical emergency. An inflamed appendix can rupture and cause agonizing pain on the right side of your lower stomach.

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The position of the appendix is important in diagnosing the symptoms of appendicitis. Even though most of the appendix pain will be on your right abdomen, appendicitis pain usually starts near your belly button. Along with the pain, other warning signs of appendicitis are nausea, vomiting, and a fever. To treat appendicitis successfully, doctors have to surgically remove the appendix from your right stomach area.

In this article, you will find out how to locate your appendix and know its function in the body. Also, you will learn about the warning signs of appendicitis and how to tell these apart from other causes of abdominal aches and pain.

Where Is the Appendix Located?

Your appendix is found on the lower right-hand side of your belly.

It’s important to know that the appendix is located on the right side of your body above your waist as it can help you recognize the early signs of appendicitis. For example, sometimes severe abdominal gas pains or indigestion can resemble appendicitis symptoms.

According to Dr. Carol DerSarkissian on WebMD, your appendix is about 3 ½ inches long. The position of the appendix is just where the large intestine meets the small intestine. This location is in the lower part of your right abdomen.1

If you want to find exactly where your appendix is located, you can do the following:

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  • Locate the top of your right-hand hip bone on the front of your body.
  • Place your thumb on the top of your hip bone and your pinky finger on the edge of your pubic bone.
  • Extend your index finger.
  • Where your index finger lies should be the exact position of your appendix.
Appendix location diagram

Appendix location diagram

Another way to find the precise location of your appendix is to find the McBurney’s point. According to MedicineNet, the appendix location is referred to as the McBurney’s point. To find the appendix position, imagine a straight line from your navel to the right edge of your hip bone.  Your appendix should be about two-thirds in distance from your navel.2

When diagnosing appendicitis, doctors will use the McBurney’s point and apply pressure to this location to check if the appendix is the cause of right-sided stomach pain.

The Function of the Appendix

No one really knows what the appendix does in the body. However, one thing is certain, we can live without our appendix.

Dr. Melissa Conrad Stöppler on MedicineNet explains that some theorize that the appendix has something to do with a child’s immune system. However, in older children and adults it seems that it doesn’t have any function.3

Another theory of the function of this small organ in your right abdomen is that it is connected to your digestive system. Some doctors say that the appendix contains good bacteria that assist in recovery from gastrointestinal illnesses.1

What Causes Appendicitis?

There doesn’t seem to be any factors that increase or decrease a person’s risk of developing an inflamed appendix that causes abdominal pain.

Dr. Mary Lowth on Patient.info says that a blockage in the appendix could be to blame for appendicitis. The appendix blockage could be caused by indigestible food, trapped seeds, or hard feces. Or, the inflammation could be in response to an infection elsewhere in the body.4

When the blockage prevents the appendix from draining, bacteria can overgrow and cause inflammation and pain in your lower abdomen.

Location of Appendix Pain

One of the first painful signs that your appendix has become inflamed is abdominal pain that spreads to your lower right abdomen.

The location of appendix pain can help to tell the symptoms apart from other reasons for stomach pain. Doctors from the National Health Service say that appendix pain usually starts in the middle of your abdomen. At the start, appendix pain can feel like mild aches that come and go. However, very quickly the pain can spread to your lower right-hand side where your appendix is located.5

The typical symptoms of appendix pain are relentless abdominal aching that you feel in the area between your navel and right hip bone.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic explain that the buildup of bacteria causes the appendix to fill with pus and become inflamed. This will cause pain around the location of the appendix that gradually gets worse. Eventually the appendix ruptures. A ruptured appendix is a serious emergency and will cause pain to spread from your lower abdomen to the rest of your abdominal region.6

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To diagnose if the abdominal pain is a warning sign of appendicitis, doctors usually press on the area where the appendix is located. They do this by exerting some pressure on your lower right abdomen and then quickly removing their hand.

Coughing or walking can make appendicitis pain worse.

Other Reasons for Right-Sided Abdominal Pain

Of course, there can be more reasons for abdominal pain in the area where your appendix is located.

Dr. Charles Patrick Davis on MedicineNet says that some other causes of right-sided abdominal aching and discomfort are irritable bowel syndrome, gallbladder stones, Crohn’s disease, urinary tract infection, or kidney stones that cause right flank pain.7

Some women also experience pain on the right side of their pelvis if they have an ovarian cyst or uterine fibroids.

Appendicitis in Children and the Elderly

Although anyone can develop symptoms of appendicitis, it seems to affect children and the elderly more.

The World Journal of Clinical Pediatrics reported that inflamed and ruptured appendixes are common in persons up to the age of 20 years old. In children, the majority of cases of appendicitis occur between the ages of 3 and 5 years old.8

The dangers of appendicitis in children is that appendix ruptures tend to happen sooner than in adults. Researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine report that parents should know the location of the appendix and also the early warning signs of appendicitis.9

Many children who have appendicitis don’t show the usual warning signs as adults do. For example, Johns Hopkins Medicine says that many kids don’t have nausea and vomiting and loss of appetite with appendicitis symptoms. Very often, the early symptoms of child appendicitis are high fever and pain in the lower right abdomen.9

Regarding signs and symptoms of appendicitis in the elderly, the World Journal of Emergency Surgery says that ruptured appendixes occur more frequently in children than in adults.10

Warning Signs of Appendicitis

Knowing the location of your appendix can help to identify the warning signs of an inflamed appendix.

Here are the most common warning signs of appendicitis.

Belly button pain and appendicitis

Although your appendix is in the right side of your abdomen, the first sign of appendicitis is usually pain around your belly button.

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The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) report that appendicitis pain often starts off around your navel before spreading to your lower right abdomen.11

Right-side stomach pain is a warning sign of appendicitis

The most common warning sign of appendicitis is a mild to severe pain in the right side of your middle abdomen.

Dr. Mary Lowth on Patient.info reports that appendix pain in your right abdomen gradually gets worse in a 6 to 24-hour period. Other symptoms of appendicitis will be tenderness and possibly shooting stomach pains if you cough.4

Some people describe appendicitis pain as a very severe and an intense pain that they’ve never experienced before.

Fever and appendicitis

The buildup of bacteria in your appendix and the resulting infection will cause a fever in your body.

According to the U.S. Department of Health, one of the usual symptom of appendix inflammation is a low-grade fever. If your appendix bursts, then the fever will become higher as the infection spreads to your abdomen.11

Nausea and vomiting along with appendicitis

Most right-sided abdominal pain that is caused by appendicitis will result in nausea and vomiting.

According to Dr. Carol DerSarkissian on WebMD, the discomfort caused by gastric upset will usually start around the same time as the abdominal pain.1

Abnormal bowel movements

Appendicitis will also upset your digestive system and result in abnormal bowel movements along with the pain.

According to the International Journal of General Medicine, constipation, diarrhea, and the inability to pass gas are all symptoms of appendicitis.12

Urgent need to urinate

Along with the warning signs of appendicitis I already mentioned, along with the severe aches in your right abdomen, you might need to pee more often.

The journal BMJ reports that pelvic pain and a frequent need to urinate happen in about 20% of appendicitis cases.13

Other warning signs of an inflamed appendix

Not all individuals with appendicitis will have all the common warning signs of an inflamed appendix. In fact, the location of the appendix in some people is not in its usual place.

Dr. Mary Lowth says people whose appendix is in a different position will feel abdominal pain associated with appendicitis in the right hip joint or in the lower pelvic area.4

Some of the less common symptoms of appendicitis include:

  • Sudden pain in the right side of your abdominal region.
  • Mild abdominal pain that becomes excruciating only when the appendix perforates.
  • Deep aching sensation in your right abdomen that gradually gets worse.

With these less-typical appendicitis signs, you will still have nausea and vomiting along with a fever.

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How to Diagnose Symptoms of Appendicitis

Doctors diagnose symptoms of appendicitis by pressing on the right abdomen and running some blood and urine tests.

It is important to get an accurate diagnosis of appendicitis as the inflammation can become a medical emergency. First, a doctor will push on the abdominal area where the appendix is located. He or she will do this by pressing and then quickly releasing their hand.

To confirm that your right-sided abdominal pain is caused by appendicitis, doctors may perform blood tests. They will check your white blood cell count to see if you have more white blood cells than normal in your bloodstream. This may show that you have immature granulocytes or an increase in the mean platelet volume (MPV) which usually show up in lab tests if you have appendicitis.

Additionally, you might have to give a urine sample to check for leukocytes and bacteria in urine. In some cases, you may have to go for a CT scan, an X-ray, or an ultrasound scan.

Treatment for Appendicitis

The only treatment for appendicitis is to remove the inflamed appendix with an appendectomy.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that an appendix is removed by making an incision in the abdomen where the appendix is located. Appendectomies are carried out as an emergency procedure to remove the appendix before it ruptures and the infection spreads.14

Unless the appendix is removed quickly, it can cause serious complications. Doctors from Johns Hopkins say that a burst appendix can cause peritonitis (inflammation of the tissue that lines the inner wall of the abdomen) which can be fatal in some cases.15

Can Appendicitis be Prevented?

There is no way to predict or prevent appendicitis. Most doctors agree that the reasons why the appendix becomes infected and inflamed are not fully understood.

According to Dr. Mary Lowth on Patient.info, certain research into the causes of appendicitis point to a link with the Western diet. Nutritionists agree that cutting out sugar and processed foods and increasing dietary fiber in a well-balanced diet can help to improve digestive health. This can also keep food moving through your digestive tract in a proper manner.4

According to the University of Maryland, studies show that consuming more green vegetables and eating more tomatoes could help to reduce the risk of appendicitis.16

However, there is no proven direct link between diet and appendicitis and no scientific research that has proven how to prevent appendicitis.

When to See a Doctor for Pain in Your Lower Right Abdomen

You should never ignore sharp pains or deep aching where your appendix is located as appendicitis can quickly become a serious medical condition.

Of course, you should never ignore any kind of abdominal pains that are constant and don’t go away. According to Dr. John Cunha on eMedicineNet, you should call your doctor immediately if you have sudden, sharp abdominal pain on the right side of your body. If you have other symptoms like fever, nausea and/or vomiting, and the pain lasts for more than 4 hours, these could be warning signs of appendicitis.

Read my other related articles:

Article Sources

  1. WebMD. Appendicitis.
  2. MedicineNet. McBurney’s point.
  3. MedicineNet. Appendicitis symptoms, causes, treatments, and surgery.
  4. PatientInfo. Appendicitis.
  5. NHS. Appendicitis.
  6. MayoClinic. Appendicitis.
  7. MedicineNet. Abdominal pain.
  8. World J Clin Pediatr. 2015 May 8; 4(2): 19–24.
  9. HopkinsMedicine. Does this child have appendicitis?
  10. World J Emerg Surg. 2014; 9: 6.
  11. NIDDK. Appendicitis.
  12. Int J Gen Med. 2012; 5: 789–797.
  13. BMJ. 2006 Sep 9; 333(7567): 530–534.
  14. MayoClinic. Appendicitis. Treatment and drugs.
  15. HopkinsMedicine. Appendicitis.
  16. UMM. Appendicitis.
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