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Diagnosis - Appendicitis

Appendicitis can be difficult to diagnose unless you have the typical symptoms, which are only present in about half of all cases.

Also, some people's appendixes may lie in a 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 like appendicitis, but it's caused by something else, such as:

  • gastroenteritis (stomach infection)
  • severe irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • constipation
  • a bladder or urine infection

Your GP will examine your tummy. They will check to see if the pain gets worse when applying pressure to the appendix area. This is your lower right-hand side.

Symptoms typical of appendicitis are often enough for your GP to decide you may have appendicitis. In this case, you're immediately referred to hospital for treatment.

Read more about treatment for appendicitis

Further tests

Further tests may be required in hospital. This is 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. You may be given antibiotics or pain killers. Your surgeon may recommend a laparoscopy. This is to inspect your appendix and pelvic organs, if the diagnosis is still uncertain. If inflamed, the appendix can be removed.

With suspected appendicitis you're usually advised to have your appendix removed. This is to avoid the risk of it bursting. Some people will have their appendix removed, even though it's later found to be normal.

A diagnosis may not be certain. If so, a doctor may recommend waiting up to 24 hours to see if your symptoms improve, stay the same, or get worse.

With a suspected burst appendix, you will go to hospital immediately for treatment.

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.