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Appendicitis or Gas Pain? When to Seek Medical Help

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Dec 15, 2022

    Appendicitis or Gas Pain? When to Seek Medical Help

    Is it appendicitis or gas pain? This is a common question among people who feel pain in their abdomen. When you are able to determine if you have appendicitis or gas pain you will have one less thing to worry about since appendicitis is a medical emergency. 

    What is the appendix?

    The appendix, found at the lower right side of the abdomen, is a small pouch that branches off the cecum, the first part of the colon that receives the partially digested food from the small intestine.

    For the longest time, medical experts viewed the appendix as a “vestigial organ” or an organ that has no function or purpose.

    Recently, however, a study by researchers from Midwestern University in Arizona suggested that the appendix may be a secondary immune organ by storing good bacteria and producing immunoglobulins – proteins that fight infection.   

    What is appendicitis and what causes it?

    While it’s safe to say that we can live without the 2 to 4-inch pouch that is the appendix, it’ll be a big problem if it gets infected. Appendicitis happens when there is a blockage in the appendix. Bacteria, food debris, or parasites often cause the blockage. Sometimes, trapped stool and tumors can also cause it.

    Because of the blockage, the appendix may become inflamed or swollen and the blood supply in the area will decrease. Without blood supply, the appendix can swell and burst. When the appendix ruptures, the infection will spread into the abdomen. This is the reason why appendicitis is a medical emergency.

    How to know if it’s appendicitis or gas pain?

    Since people often feel pain somewhere in their abdomen, it’s quite difficult to ascertain if the pain is coming from appendicitis or gas. Appendicitis pain has the following characteristics:

  • Sudden, sharp pain that begins at the right side of the abdomen.
  • Sudden, sharp pain that starts at the navel then shifts to the lower right side of the abdomen.
  • Pain that worsens when you cough or sneeze or when you perform jarring movements like walking or jogging.
  • Please note that the painful area may vary, depending on your age and condition. For instance, pregnant women may feel appendicitis pain in their upper abdomen because their appendix is positioned higher in their belly.

    Whenever you wonder if it’s appendicitis or gas, note that gas pain feels like cramps and is often accompanied by burping, passing of gas, bloating, and an observable increase in the size of the abdomen (distension).

    When to see a doctor

    Determining whether it is appendicitis or gas pain is an essential part of knowing when to see a doctor. If you experience appendicitis pain, be sure to seek medical attention right away, as you don’t want the infection to spread. The other signs and symptoms of appendicitis that you need to watch out for are:

    •         Nausea and vomiting
    •         Fever that worsens as the infection progresses
    •         Appetite loss
    •         Diarrhea or constipation
    •         Bloating
    •         Inability to pass gas

    What are the tests for appendicitis?

    When you reach the hospital, the doctor will most likely perform tests as well to check if the pain is caused by appendicitis or gas (or other condition). The tests may include:

    • Physical Exam – The doctor will ask you to point to the painful area. They will then put gentle pressure on the site. When pressure is released, the appendicitis pain may worsen, suggesting that the peritoneum (abdominal lining) is also inflamed.
    • Urine Test – a urine test will determine if the abdominal pain may be caused by infections in the urinary tract. 
    • Blood Tests – They will also take your blood to check for systemic signs of infection.
    • Imageries – Finally, to confirm appendicitis, the doctor may order abdominal scans through CT Scan, X-Ray or Ultrasound. Scans are especially helpful if the doctor cannot specifically determine the cause of abdominal pain.

    What are the treatment options for appendicitis?

    Once the doctor diagnoses appendicitis, you will be asked to undergo appendectomy – the emergency surgery that removes the appendix. There are two types of appendectomy – keyhole surgery and open surgery.

    In Keyhole Surgery, 3 to 4 small cuts are made and different instruments are inserted in the patient’s abdomen. These include an instrument that pumps gas to enlarge the abdomen and gives more room for the doctor to move, a laparoscope, a tube with light and camera used for visualization, and surgical instruments used to remove the appendix. In Open Surgery, the doctor makes one (larger) cut in the lower right side of the abdomen.

    Recovery time from appendectomy depends on the type of surgery performed. If you had the Keyhole Surgery, the doctor may send you home in just 24 hours after the operation. If you underwent the Open Surgery, it may take up to a week before you can go home. Before going home, the doctor will give you instructions on proper wound care and will prescribe painkillers or antibiotics to prevent the onset of infection. 

    Key Takeaways about Appendicitis or Gas Pain

    When you know how to determine if the abdominal pain is caused by appendicitis and gas, then you will be more ready to face the medical emergency brought about by appendix infection.

    Just remember that appendicitis pain is sudden and sharp and often felt on the lower right side of the tummy. This pain, along with other appendicitis signs and symptoms, must alert you right away that you need medical attention.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Dec 15, 2022

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