Appendicitis or Gas? How to Tell the Difference

Medically Reviewed By Angelica Balingit, MD
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Appendicitis develops when the appendix gets inflamed. It can cause pain, nausea, and an inability to pass gas. Gas, on the other hand, occurs when air and other gases get trapped in the digestive tract. Since appendicitis is an emergency, it is important to recognize the signs between the two. Appendicitis requires emergency treatment, but gas is hardly a cause for concern.

This article explains the differences between appendicitis and gas. It will also explain the symptoms of each condition, the causes, and ways to treat them.

What is the difference between appendicitis and gas? 

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Appendicitis and gas can cause a buildup of gas in the digestive tract. However, they are not the same.

Gas causes repeated burping and flatulence, but appendicitis causes an inability to pass gas. Also, gas is rarely serious, but appendicitis often requires urgent medical attention.

What is appendicitis? 

Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix. The appendix is a thin sac that hangs from the large intestine. 

According to the National Health Service, the following factors may contribute to appendicitis:

  • Appendix blockage: Solid waste and other foreign materials in the body may block the entrance to the appendix and cause the sac to swell.
  • Upper respiratory tract infection: This may cause inflammation of the lymph node within the intestinal wall.

Read more about appendicitis.

What is gas? 

Gas is when air fills your digestive tract. It usually goes away when you burp or pass gas. However, it can occasionally accumulate and cause repeated burping or flatulence.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) identified several causes of gas, including:

  • Swallowed air: You swallow air while eating or drinking. This may cause gas symptoms. Air swallowing can also increase with activities such as chewing gum or smoking.
  • Eating certain foods: Your body does not fully digest starches and other carbohydrates. These pass to your large intestine, where bacteria convert them into gas.
  • Medical conditions: Several digestive conditions can also cause gas symptoms. They include: 

Read more about ways to relieve gas.

What are symptoms of appendicitis? 

Appendicitis often initially causes a painful sensation around the belly button.

This sensation may move to the lower-right side of the abdomen and become more severe. It may also flare up when you walk, sneeze, or cough.

Other symptoms include:

  • loss of appetite
  • high or mild fever
  • nausea or vomiting
  • swelling in the abdomen
  • an inability to pass gas
  • constipation or diarrhea 
  • flushed face

Appendicitis pain may start out mild and worsen within a few hours. Get immediate medical treatment if you have symptoms.

Symptoms of a ruptured appendicitis 

Sometimes, severe appendicitis may cause the appendix to rupture or burst. This may allow bacteria to enter the abdomen and cause infection.

Symptoms of ruptured appendicitis may include:

Early treatment of appendicitis can prevent rupture.

Appendicitis symptoms in children 

Appendicitis is common in children. 

If your child has the following symptoms, call your doctor immediately:

  • stomach upset 
  • low fever
  • nausea and vomiting
  • loss of appetite

Appendicitis symptoms during pregnancy

Appendicitis is a typical general surgery problem during pregnancy. In fact, data suggests that the condition occurs in every 1 in 800–1,500 pregnancies

Common symptoms of appendicitis during pregnancy include: 

What are symptoms of gas pain?

Gas can often cause burping and flatulence. It can also cause bloating and nausea.

These symptoms can become persistent and bothersome.

Additional symptoms may include:

Some people with gas may experience certain symptoms but not others. Make an appointment with your doctor if your symptoms become worrisome.

When should you contact a doctor?

Contact your doctor if serious symptoms, such as severe abdominal pain, accompany gas symptoms.

If you have symptoms of appendicitis, get emergency medical care.

How do you diagnose appendicitis?

Your doctor will diagnose appendicitis by checking your symptoms and medical history. They will also perform a physical exam and some lab tests, such as:

Diagnosing appendicitis can be hard. This is because the condition shares many overlapping features with other digestive conditions. 

All the same, your doctor will make certain to reach the right conclusion.

Read more about how doctors diagnose appendicitis.

How do you treat appendicitis? 

According to the NIDDK, mild cases of appendicitis may improve with antibiotics alone. However, serious cases typically require surgery.

The appendix is not critical to a person’s well-being. As such, removing it will typically not cause any problems.

Surgery

Appendicectomy or appendectomy is surgery to remove the appendix.

Surgeons can perform the procedure in two ways:

  • Laparoscopy: A surgeon will make incisions and insert a camera-fitted tube to view the insides of your abdomen. Next, they will make additional incisions to remove your appendix.
  • Open surgery: A surgeon will make a wide incision in your abdomen to access your appendix and remove it. Surgeons usually perform this procedure when appendicitis is extremely severe.

You can typically to return to your regular routine within weeks of appendicectomy.

How do you treat gas pain? 

Your doctor will treat gas pain by addressing the underlying cause.

So, if GERD is the cause, your doctor may give you H2 blockers or antacids.

Your doctor will typically also recommend some dietary and lifestyle adjustments.

Home remedies

Simple home routines can help prevent and remedy gas symptoms.

They include:

  • avoiding chewing gum, having fizzy drinks, and talking while eating 
  • identifying and cutting back on foods that aggravate gas symptoms 
  • eating slowly and smaller meals 

Be sure to get your doctor’s advice before making these or any other dietary changes.

What are complications of appendicitis?

Untreated appendicitis may cause severe complications, such as:

  • Peritonitis: This occurs when the membrane lining of the abdominal wall and organs get inflamed. It can cause severe pain.
  • Abscesses: This is when pus collects in the tissues of the body. It usually results from bacterial infection.
  • Sepsis: This is when the body damages its own tissue while trying to clear infection. It is a potentially life threatening condition.

What are complications of gas?

Left untreated, gas may affect your quality of life. 

It may cause:

  • chest pain
  • constant abdominal pain 
  • mental health conditions

Get early treatment to prevent gas or appendicitis complications.

Summary

Appendicitis and gas have some similar symptoms, but they are not the same.

Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix. It can cause pain, nausea, and an inability to pass gas. Causes include blockage of the appendix and upper respiratory tract infection.

Gas occurs when air and other gases get trapped in the digestive tract. It can cause repeated burping and flatulence. Causes include swallowing air, celiac disease, and GERD.

Treatments for appendicitis include antibiotics and surgery. Treatments for gas include H2 blockers and dietary changes.

Speak with your doctor if you have bothersome symptoms of gas or appendicitis.

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Medical Reviewer: Angelica Balingit, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 Oct 28
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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