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Complications - Appendicitis

If appendicitis isn't treated, the appendix can burst and cause life-threatening infections.

Emergency action required: Call 999 for an ambulance if:

  • you have tummy (abdominal) pain that suddenly gets much worse and spreads across your stomach

These are signs your appendix may have burst.


If your appendix bursts, it releases bacteria into other parts of the body. This can cause a condition called peritonitis if the infection spreads to the peritoneum. This is the thin layer of tissue that lines the inside of the abdomen.

Symptoms of peritonitis can include:

  • severe continuous stomach pain
  • feeling sick or being sick
  • a high temperature (fever)
  • a rapid heartbeat
  • shortness of breath with rapid breathing
  • swelling of the stomach

If peritonitis isn't treated it can cause long-term problems and may even be fatal. Treatment for peritonitis usually involves antibiotics and the surgical removal of the appendix.


Sometimes an abscess forms around a burst appendix. This is a painful collection of pus that occurs as a result of the body's attempt to fight the infection.

Abscesses can sometimes be treated using antibiotics. But in the vast majority of cases the pus needs to be drained from the abscess.

This can be carried out under ultrasound or computerised tomography (CT) guidance. This is done using local anaesthetic and a needle inserted through the skin, followed by the placement of a drain.

If an abscess is found during surgery, the area is washed out and a course of antibiotics is given.

Find out more about treating abscesses


Abdominal adhesions is where scar tissue forms between abdominal tissues and organs. This can cause them to stick together. This can happen after surgery.

Most adhesions are painless and do not cause complications They typically begin to form in the first few days after surgery, but they may not produce symptoms for months or even years.

Treatment can depend on the location and the extent of the problems the adhesion is causing. Adhesions often improve without surgery.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 22 December 2020
Next review due: 22 December 2023

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.