Appendicitis can be tricky to diagnose unless you have the typical symptoms, which are only present in about half of all cases.
Also, some people's appendixes may be located in a slightly different part of their body, such as:
- the pelvis
- behind the large intestine
- around the small bowel
- near the right lower part of the liver
Some people develop pain similar to appendicitis, but it's caused by something else, such as:
Your GP will ask about your symptoms, examine your abdomen, and see if the pain gets worse when pressure is applied to the appendix area (your lower right-hand side).
If your symptoms are typical of appendicitis, this is normally enough for your GP to make a confident diagnosis. In this case, you'll immediately be referred to hospital for treatment.
If your symptoms aren't typical, further tests may be required in hospital to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other conditions.
Further tests may involve:
- a blood test to look for signs of infection
- a pregnancy test for women
- a urine test to rule out other conditions, such as a bladder infection
- an ultrasound scan to see if the appendix is swollen
- a computerised tomography (CT) scan
It can sometimes take time to get test results. Your surgeon may recommend a laparoscopy to inspect your appendix and pelvic organs if the diagnosis is still uncertain.
You'll usually be advised to have your appendix removed if appendicitis is suspected, rather than run the risk of it bursting. This means some people will have their appendix removed even though it's eventually found to be normal.
In some cases where a diagnosis is not certain, a doctor may recommend waiting up to 24 hours to see if your symptoms improve, stay the same, or get worse.
If your doctor suspects your appendix has burst, you'll be sent to hospital immediately for treatment.