Appendicitis Test

There’s no single appendicitis test. Typically, healthcare providers use multiple exams to diagnose appendicitis. Tests may include a physical exam, lab work, and a CT scan or ultrasound of the stomach.

Overview

What is an appendicitis test?

Healthcare providers use a combination of tests to confirm whether you have appendicitis, an infection or inflammation of the appendix. The purpose of appendicitis tests is to provide a prompt diagnosis for appendicitis, so you receive the care you need.

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What types of appendicitis tests are there?

Your healthcare provider may perform or order these appendicitis tests:

  • Physical exam checks for pain in the lower right side of your abdomen where your appendix is typically located.
  • Blood and urine tests identify an infection or inflammation and rule out other conditions that can mimic an appendicitis presentation, like a urinary tract infection.
  • CT scan images of your abdomen are the most accurate way to diagnose appendicitis. If you’re of childbearing age, you’ll have a pregnancy test before the CT scan to avoid unnecessary radiation if possible. A pregnancy test and an ultrasound can rule out an ectopic pregnancy, which can also be the cause of abdominal or pelvic pain similar to that of appendicitis.
  • Ultrasound creates pictures of the abdominal contents using sound waves instead of radiation. It’s less accurate than a CT scan for diagnosing appendicitis but healthcare providers use abdominal ultrasound instead of CT to diagnose appendicitis in infants, children, young adults and pregnant people.

What is appendicitis?

The appendix is a 2- to 4-inch, tube-shaped, organ that is attached to the large intestine (colon) and is located on the lower aspect of the abdominal cavity. Appendicitis is when the appendix becomes infected or inflamed. If you have appendicitis, you’ll most likely have an appendectomy, or surgery to remove your appendix. You can live a long, healthy life without your appendix.

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What are the early warning signs of appendicitis?

The first sign is typically a dull pain around your belly button. That pain then travels down to the lower right side of your abdomen and becomes more intense and sharp.

Pain might also:

  • Be constant.
  • Come on suddenly.
  • Get worse when coughing.
  • Start out as a dull ache that doesn’t get better after taking a pain reliever.

Additional early warning signs include:

Why is it important to know the early warning signs for appendicitis?

An inflamed appendix can burst and spread bacteria throughout your body. This can trigger a serious, potentially life-threatening infection (peritonitis). Recognize the early signs of appendicitis so you can get the right diagnosis and treatment.

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Who performs an appendicitis test?

Different healthcare providers perform different tests to rule out appendicitis. For example, a:

  • Medical doctor may take your history and perform a physical exam.
  • Nurse or phlebotomist draws blood for a blood test.
  • A radiology technician may perform your ultrasound or CT scan.

How do you check for appendicitis at home?

Aside from paying attention to your symptoms, you can check to see if you experience sharp abdominal pain when you:

  • Lie on your left side and extend your right hip.
  • Flex your right hip and knee and rotate your right hip.

If you still feel persistent and worsening pain, or if you’re unsure, contact your provider. Appendicitis can become a serious condition that can cause severe complications if it’s not promptly treated.

Test Details

Do I need to prepare for an appendicitis test?

You don’t need to prepare for a physical exam, blood test or urine test. For an imaging scan, you might need to stop eating or drinking a few hours beforehand. Your provider will let you know the details before your test.

What is the procedure for an appendicitis test?

During a physical exam, a healthcare provider may check whether you experience pain when:

  • You lie down on your left side as the provider extends your right thigh and applies pressure to the right hip.
  • The provider presses on parts of your abdomen and releases the pressure.
  • The provider presses on your right knee as you lift your leg.

During a blood test, a healthcare provider:

  • Inserts a thin needle into your vein.
  • Collects a small amount of blood from the vein.

During a CT scan, you might:

  • Drink a substance called a contrast dye or receive an injection of the dye through your veins.
  • Lie down on a table as the CT scanner’s beam moves around you to take pictures.

During an ultrasound, a healthcare provider:

  • Applies a special gel on your stomach.
  • Moves a device called a transducer on your stomach to see images.

Are there any risks or side effects with appendicitis tests?

There are no risks or side effects associated with appendicitis tests.

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Results and Follow-Up

What do the results of the appendicitis test mean?

A blood test with a high white blood cell count means you have an infection. But about a third of people with appendicitis have a normal white blood cell count. High levels of c-reactive protein in your blood may mean you have inflammation in your body and possibly appendicitis.

A urine sample with white blood cells and bacteria typically means you have a urinary tract infection. A urine test can also suggest kidney stones if your sample has certain minerals that make up kidney stones, or blood is seen in your urine.

If you have appendicitis, a CT scan or ultrasound may show:

  • An enlarged appendix that’s greater than 6 millimeters in diameter.
  • Calcified deposits inside the appendix (appendicolith).
  • Increase in the fat inflammation around the appendix (peri-appendiceal fat stranding).
  • Thickening of the appendix wall that’s greater than 2 millimeters.

When will I know the results of an appendicitis test?

The timing of your results can vary with each test. For example, it can take about an hour or two to receive the results of an ultrasound or CT scan.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Because appendicitis is considered an emergency, you should get immediate medical attention if you’re experiencing symptoms.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

An appendicitis test is a series of tests that diagnose appendicitis. Tests typically include a physical exam, blood and urine tests and an imaging test, such as a CT scan or ultrasound. Healthcare providers consider appendicitis to be a medical emergency because your appendix can burst and cause life-threatening complications. If you have constant pain in your abdomen, seek emergency care.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/13/2022.

Learn more about our editorial process.

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