Appendicitis During Pregnancy

Pregnant woman in hospital bed making pained face

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Having appendicitis, an infection of the appendix, during pregnancy is the most frequent reason to need surgery in pregnancy. It is estimated that 1 in 1,500 people will need an appendectomy during pregnancy.

One of the biggest problems of appendicitis during pregnancy is delayed diagnosis. Due to the physical changes in the pregnant body, it can be quite difficult to diagnose appendicitis. It is easier to diagnose appendicitis while pregnant in the first and second trimesters.

An important reason to get a diagnosis early is that the longer you delay the more likely it is to have complications, particularly the perforation of the appendix. If this happens, the fetal loss rates are increased to nearly 36%. Adverse complications of appendicitis while pregnant are more likely in the third trimester. Learn more about appendicitis during pregnancy.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Appendicitis During Pregnancy

Lower right quadrant pain is the most common symptom of appendicitis, both for people who are pregnant and those who are not. However, later in pregnancy, pain may occur higher up in the abdomen or even in the upper right quadrant.

You will most likely have an ultrasound if your doctor suspects appendicitis is causing your pain. This is very good for determining what is wrong in the first and second trimesters, almost 86% as good as it is in people who are not pregnant. Since it may be more difficult to diagnose appendicitis in the third trimester, your practitioner may suggest an MRI scan or a CT scan to help confirm their clinical suspicion.

Appendicitis Surgery While Pregnant

If you are in the first or second trimester, you will most likely be able to have a laparoscopy for your surgery. This is also known as band-aid surgery because it is accomplished through a few small holes in your abdomen, as opposed to a larger incision.

In the third trimester, you will have a larger incision due to the size of the uterus making a laparoscopy difficult. During surgery after the 24-week mark, fetal monitoring should be used to help monitor your baby.

While pregnant women who have an appendectomy (either laparoscopic or open) may have preterm contractions, only about 10% will deliver their babies early. The risk rises as the pregnancy progresses: It is 8% prior to 24 weeks' gestation, 13% between 24 and 28 weeks, and 35% at 29 to 36 weeks.

Recovery from Appendicitis Surgery While Pregnant

While someone who is not pregnant would normally go home fairly quickly after surgery, when you go home will depend on how you and your baby are doing. Generally speaking, you will need to stay at least overnight.

Recovery after surgery will be very important because of your pregnancy. You will need to stay home from work, typically, about a week, or more if you experienced complications or are having signs of preterm labor. Resting is important to healing, but so is moving. The sooner that you are up and out of bed, the faster you will heal and the fewer complications you are likely to experience.

Avoid lifting heavy objects. Eat nutritious food and keep your practitioner's appointments to help ensure that you are healing properly. Typically, you will have a follow up with your surgeon within a week or two. The care between your surgeon and your doctor or midwife will be coordinated, but you may need to help facilitate this.

Be sure to check with each practitioner to ensure that they are talking to one another about your care. Depending on when the surgery is in relation to when you go into labor, there should be no changes in your plans for your birth. If you have questions about the changes that could happen, be sure to ask your doctor at your appointments as you move forward.

4 Sources
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  2. Zachariah SK, Fenn M, Jacob K, Arthungal SA, Zachariah SA. Management of acute abdomen in pregnancy: current perspectives. Int J Womens Health. 2019;11:119-134. doi:10.2147/IJWH.S151501

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By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.