These guidelines have been produced to guide clinical decision making for the medical, nursing and allied health staff of Perth Children’s Hospital. They are not strict protocols, and they do not replace the judgement of a senior clinician. Clinical common-sense should be applied at all times. These clinical guidelines should never be relied on as a substitute for proper assessment with respect to the particular circumstances of each case and the needs of each patient. Clinicians should also consider the local skill level available and their local area policies before following any guideline. 

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To guide PCH Emergency Department (ED) staff with the assessment and management of right iliac fossa pain / appendicitis.



  • Appendicitis is one of the most common surgical conditions of the abdomen.
  • Although today it is regarded as a simple disease, it remains the most commonly misdiagnosed surgical emergency.
  • Appendicitis usually results from luminal obstruction of the appendix, followed by infection.
  • Appendicitis, when it presents in the “classic” way, is easy to diagnose clinically.
  • However, appendicitis is notorious for its protean manifestations, and no single symptom, sign or diagnostic test is reliable on its own in making the diagnosis
  • In children, the mainstay of the diagnosis of appendicitis is a good history and repeated physical examinations.
  • Other than urinalysis to exclude a urinary tract infection (UTI), special investigations are usually not indicated.



  • The “classic” progression of symptoms is:
    • loss of appetite
    • dull periumbilical pain followed by nausea
    • migration of the pain to the right iliac fossa (RIF)
    • vomiting
    • occasionally loose stools and fever
  • However, very young children with appendicitis may lack this history of progression and migration of pain and have a tendency towards early perforation and systemic illness. This finding also applies to those with communication difficulties such as autism and developmental delay.
  • Likewise, the differential diagnostic possibilities are increased in the adolescent female who has started menses.


A good approach to the diagnosis of appendicitis is to look for evidence of the following things:

  • Infection: This may include low-grade fever
  • Gastrointestinal Tract (GIT) upset: This includes anorexia, nausea, vomiting and occasionally loose stools
  • Right iliac fossa (RIF) involvement: Pain, tenderness, localised peritonitis (guarding, rebound tenderness)
    • The following signs are more relevant in older children
      • Rovsing sign (RIF pain when palpating the left iliac fossa)
      • Psoas sign (RIF pain on hyperextension of the right hip)
      • Obturator sign (RIF pain on internal rotation of the flexed right hip)
  • The typical picture in the infant is the septic appearing child who has generalised abdominal tenderness
  • If generalised peritonitis develops, then guarding and rebound tenderness also becomes generalised
  • An inflamed appendix adjacent to the urinary bladder or a ureter may give rise to irritative urinary symptoms, pyuria and haematuria
  • Vomiting which precedes abdominal pain is unlikely to be due to appendicitis
  • Non-abdominal features of the examination – such as ability to hop, move around, climb onto the trolley undistressed may help to support or refute the likelihood of appendicitis.



  • In all cases where appendicitis is suspected, a urine should be checked to exclude urinary tract infections
  • Remember that appendicitis, as well as fever itself, may give rise to mild pyuria or haematuria.
  • Urinary beta-human chorionic gonadotropin in adolescent females.

Blood tests

  • Full blood count (FBC) / C-reactive protein (CRP): white cell count, absolute neutrophil count and CRP could be helpful in making a diagnosis of appendicitis1

Other Tests

These should only be done in cases where diagnosis is uncertain and if they will change management and can include:

  • Abdominal X-Ray is unhelpful in diagnosing appendicitis. It does have a place however in cases where perforation or generalised peritonitis are suspected. Look for RIF air-fluid levels or faecolith.
  • Urea, electrolytes and creatinine (UEC): These should only be checked if the child has had profuse vomiting and is thought to be dehydrated. Electrolyte abnormalities and dehydration need to be corrected before surgery.
  • Ultrasound / CT: These modalities are increasingly being used to aid in the diagnosis of appendicitis, and are helpful in excluding other causes of abdominal pain. They should only be ordered on the request of the surgeon or Senior ED Doctor, following his/her assessment of the patient.


Initial management

  • Analgesia - Oral or Intravenous (IV). Usually IV morphine is required in acute appendicitis.
  • Keep patient nil by mouth (NBM) (insert a nasogastric tube (NGT) if vomiting is continuous)
  • If shocked, resuscitate:
    • Insert IV cannula
    • Bloods: FBC, UEC,CRP
    • IV fluid bolus sodium chloride 0.9% - 20mL/kg and repeat if required
  • Rehydrate over 24 hours if dehydrated
  • Maintenance intravenous fluids alone if otherwise well
  • Electrolytes: Correct significant abnormalities if indicated
  • Antibiotics: IV antibiotics may be requested by the General Surgical Team once the diagnosis is confirmed.

Further management

If the diagnosis is uncertain:

  • In some cases where a clinical diagnosis of appendicitis could not be made or definitely excluded, the child should have a review by the General Surgical Team
  • Keep patient NBM until advised otherwise by the General Surgical Team
  • Some of these children will need to be admitted under a surgeon and observed for a period of 12-24 hours 
  • During this observation period they may be kept NBM, given appropriate IV fluids, adequate analgesia, and have regular abdominal examinations
  • Apply lidocaine (lignocaine) + prilocaine (EMLA®) cream (but if unwell IV cannula may be inserted immediately)
  • Complete and record a full set of observations on the observation and response tool and record additional information on the Clinical Comments Chart.
  • Minimum of hourly observations
  • Minimum of hourly pain score
  • Strict fluid balance chart.
  • In children with non-localising signs or very recent onset of symptoms (unlikely appendicitis), it may be reasonable to discharge the child home with clear instructions for parents to represent to the Emergency Department or GP if the symptoms do not resolve in 12-24 hours.


  1. Brandt M & Esperanza Lopez M. Acute appendicitis in children:Clinical manifestations and diagnosis (UpToDate) 2021
  2. Blab E, Kohlhuber U, Tillawi S, Schweitzer M, Stangl G, Ogris E, Rokitansky A. Advancements in the diagnosis of acute appendicitis in children and adolescents. Eur J Pediatr Surg. 2004 Dec;14(6):404-9. doi: 10.1055/s-2004-821152. 
  3. Bundy DG, Byerley JS, Liles EA, Perrin EM, Katznelson J, Rice. Does this child have appendicitis? JAMA. 2007;298(4):438. 
  4. Reynolds SL, Jaffe. Diagnosing abdominal pain in a pediatric emergency department. Pediatr Emerg Care. 1992;8 (3):126. 
  5. Sakellaris G, Tilemis S, Charissis. Acute appendicitis in preschool-age children. Eur J Pediatr. 2005 Feb;164(2):80-3. Epub 2004 Nov 20. 

Endorsed by:  Nurse, Co-director, Surgical Services  Date: Apr 2022

 Review date:  Sep 2025

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