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Is your stomach pain from appendicitis? Easy at-home test to check if you need a doctor

It's easy to assume your stomach pain means you have appendicitis. Here are easy ways to check if your stomach pain needs medical care.
Woman clutching stomach in pain
Is your stomach pain a sign of appendicitis? There are a few easy tests you can try at home.LaylaBird / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

If you've had stomach pain recently, you might have wondered how to check if you have appendicitis at home.

Appendicitis is the most common cause of abdominal pain that results in surgery in the United States, with about 5-9% of Americans having the condition at some point in their life, according to the National Institutes of Health.

One 2019 study confirmed acute appendicitis in 70% of children with abdominal pain who had worsening symptoms after jumping. 

Anyone can get appendicitis, but it is most common in people in their 20s and 30s, research shows.

Although the “jump test” is not validated in adults, there are other simple at-home maneuvers you can try to help determine whether to seek medical attention for abdominal pain.

Early signs of appendicitis

The appendix is a finger-shaped pouch that branches off where the small intestine meets the large intestine — near the right, lower side of the abdomen. Appendicitis typically causes pain in the right lower quadrant of the abdomen, though there are some populations that may present differently, such as pregnant people.

Appendicitis occurs when the inside of the appendix gets blocked, which can happen due to a variety of causes, such as stool, germs or more rarely tumors. Surgery is typically necessary when the appendix comes inflamed and swollen.

While any type of severe abdominal pain needs immediate medical attention, these symptoms are the most commonly associated with appendicitis, according to Mayo Clinic.

  • Pain that starts suddenly in the lower right quadrant of the abdomen
  • Pain that begins suddenly near the belly button and moves toward the lower right quadrant
  • Pain that worsens if you move your abdomen, such as by walking or coughing
  • Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite
  • Fever that worsens
  • Bloating, gas
  • Constipation, diarrhea

How do I rule out appendicitis at home?

There are several tests you can try at home to see if you may have appendicitis, such as the knee test and the hamburger sign.

However, these maneuvers on their own aren’t enough to diagnose appendicitis. A proper diagnosis requires a thorough history of what led to the abdominal pain, a physical exam, lab tests and imaging, usually a CT scan. (Sometimes experienced surgeons will diagnose appendicitis when the medical history and physical exam make them certain of the diagnosis and it’s a true emergency.)

It’s also important to note that there’s limited research validating the accuracy of these tests when done by someone other than a health professional outside a health care setting — but these tests can still provide more clues that you may have appendicitis.

Hamburger sign

Almost every case of acute appendicitis starts with abdominal pain.

In a typical case, the pain starts in the belly button and then migrates to the right lower quadrant. In some cases, the pain may start in the right lower quadrant and then become sharp and continuous. The pain often worsens within hours.

Eventually, patients won't feel like eating anything and will often complain of nausea and vomiting after developing abdominal pain. 

If a patient is experiencing abdominal pain but still has an appetite, it's unlikely to be appendicitis, according to previous research. Surgeons call this the hamburger sign.

Dunphy’s sign

As the disease progresses, patients often develop a fever while the inflammation spreads from the appendix to the lining of the abdominal cavity, known as the peritoneum. 

When the inflammation spreads to the peritoneum, any movement of abdomen, such as simple walking, coughing or jumping, will usually induce abdominal pain.

At this stage, one simple test you can do at home is to cough. If your abdominal pain worsens after coughing, this is known as Dunphy’s sign and could be suggestive of appendicitis. 

The leg test

The appendix lies close to a muscle known as the iliopsoas muscle, so inflammation of the appendix will also irritate this muscle when it’s moved.

Ask someone to place their hand just above your right knee while you lie flat on your back facing upward. Lift your right leg while they push down with resistance. If your appendix is flamed, this movement causes friction of the psoas muscle over the swollen appendix, resulting in pain.

Rovsing’s sign

Lie flat on your back facing upward. Press down with firm pressure on your left lower quadrant, the opposite side to where the appendix is. If you experience worsening pain in your right lower quadrant, this is a sign the lining of your abdominal cavity might be inflamed.

Rebound tenderness

While lying flat on your back, press firmly down on your right lower quadrant. If you experience sharp pain as you release your hands quickly, this is called rebound tenderness and could be a sign of appendicitis.

Keep in mind that if any of these movements cause pain, this merely suggests that you may have acute appendicitis because right lower quadrant pain can be caused by other conditions, too. And even if these movements do not cause additional pain, you could still have appendicitis.

Appendicitis can be confused with other conditions

Organs on the right side of the body near the appendix — such as the kidney, part of the large intestine, and the ovary and fallopian tube — can cause similar pain to appendicitis, even though it's from an entirely different condition.

Some conditions that cause similar pain include:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease, known as Crohn’s disease
  • Tubo-ovarian abscess, an infection of the ovary and the fallopian tube
  • Ruptured ovarian cyst
  • Endometriosis
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Kidney stones
  • Epididymitis, when the back of testicle becomes swollen
  • Testicular torsion, when the testicle twists, cutting off blood supply

If you're concerned about your stomach pain, seek medical attention to rule out acute appendicitis.