What Does Appendicitis Feel Like?

How it differs from gas and when to go the the ER

Appendicitis can feel like intestinal gas—at least in the beginning. Pain from an inflamed appendix will progressively get worse and become severe within hours. It will move from the belly button area to the lower-right part of the abdomen.

Prompt treatment is essential if you have appendicitis, so it's important to know what it feels like so you can get medical attention before your appendix bursts.

This article covers the symptoms of appendicitis, how they are different from gas, and when you should go to the emergency room. It also reviews the steps healthcare providers take to diagnose and treat this condition.

A person pressing examining the stomach and abdomen

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Appendicitis Pain and Other Symptoms

One of the main symptoms of appendicitis is abdominal pain. This can feel like gas early on, but quickly take on other defining characteristics.

Pain from appendicitis:

  • Tends to come on suddenly
  • Usually starts near the belly button and then moves to the lower-right side of the abdomen
  • Can feel worse with sneezing, coughing, taking deep breaths, or when the abdomen is pressed on
  • Gets worse over hours to a few days
  • May get worse, suddenly get better, then get worse again (a sign the appendix has burst)

Other symptoms of appendicitis include:

Taking note of when your pain started, where it's located, and what it feels like can help you figure out if the pain could be due to appendicitis. While there are other possible causes of abdominal pain, here are a few key differences between appendicitis and gas to keep in mind.

Appendicitis Symptoms
  • Pain starts near the belly button and moves to the lower-right portion of the abdomen

  • Pain is sudden and worsens over time

  • Causes severe pain

  • May cause fever or vomiting

Gas Symptoms
  • Can be felt all over the belly and up to the chest

  • Pain improves once gas moves or exits the body

  • Usually causes discomfort, rather than severe pain

  • Will not cause fever or vomiting

When to See a Healthcare Provider

An inflamed appendix is a medical emergency because it can burst and cause complications. If you have belly pain that comes on suddenly and gets worse, you need to seek medical care.

You might start by calling a healthcare provider that you already have a relationship with to ask about what you should do. You can also go to an urgent care clinic. It's common to have abdominal pain that's not caused by something serious, but you should be evaluated.

For severe abdominal pain—especially if you also have other symptoms such as fever or vomiting—skip this step and go directly to the ER.

Risks of Delaying Appendicitis Treatment

Appendicitis that is not treated can lead to a burst appendix as soon as 48 to 72 hours after symptoms start.

If an appendix bursts, the contents leak into the abdomen and lead to a life-threatening infection (peritonitis).

How Appendicitis Is Diagnosed

A provider will do a physical exam (like pressing on your belly) and ask you about your symptoms to see if you could have appendicitis. They may also do some tests such as:

Results can either confirm appendicitis or rule it out. Your provider might even be able to see gas bubbles in your GI tract if gas is actually the cause of your pain.

What Are the Chances It's Appendicitis?

Everyone has around a 7% or 8% chance of getting appendicitis in their lifetime. Most of the time, it’s not known what causes appendicitis, and there might be more than one cause.

For example, having an infection in the digestive system, inflammatory bowel disease (such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis), or a blockage inside the appendix from hardened stool or growth are all potential causes of appendicitis.

Appendicitis Treatment

If appendicitis is confirmed, the next step is surgery to remove the appendix called an appendectomy). This can be done as an open procedure (with a large incision) or laparoscopically (with several small incisions). The approach used depends on different factors, including whether your appendix has burst or not.

Most people recover from an appendectomy in a few days without any complications.

Providers may try to treat uncomplicated appendicitis with antibiotics rather than surgery. However, studies have shown that appendicitis can come back in children when were given antibiotics instead of surgery.

If you've been evaluated and it turns out your pain is due to gas after all, talk to your provider about lifestyle strategies or over-the-counter and prescription treatments to help you manage it.

Some people find that avoiding certain foods and drinks that cause gas and getting regular exercise can help.


Appendicitis causes progressively worsening pain around the belly button that usually moves to the lower-right side of the abdomen. Gas pain usually does not get worse and will get better when you burp or pass gas. 

Appendicitis is often accompanied by other symptoms that are not common if you have gas, like fever, vomiting, constipation or diarrhea, and a tender, swollen belly. 

If it’s not treated, appendicitis can lead to life-threatening infections. If you have severe abdominal pain, go to the ER. Even if it’s not appendicitis, it could be another serious medical condition that needs to be treated.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When should you be concerned about gas pain?

    Trapped gas can be quite painful but usually is not a serious medical problem. If you have bad gas pain often, talk to your healthcare provider about what you can do to get relief.

  • How long can you have appendicitis symptoms before your appendix bursts?

    An appendix can burst anywhere from 24 to 72 hours after symptoms start. You will be less likely to have complications if your appendix is taken out before it bursts, so do not delay getting treatment.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Appendicitis.

  3. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Symptoms & causes of appendicitis.

  4. Stewart B, Khanduri P, McCord C, Ohene-Yeboah M, Uranues S, Vega Rivera F, Mock C. Global disease burden of conditions requiring emergency surgery. Br J Surg. 2014;101:e9-22. doi:10.1002/bjs.9329.

  5. Lipsett SC, Monuteaux MC, Shanahan KH, Bachur RG. Nonoperative management of uncomplicated appendicitis. Pediatrics. 2022;149:e2021054693. doi: 10.1542/peds.2021-054693.

  6. Johns Hopkins. Gas in the digestive tract.

By Amber J. Tresca
Amber J. Tresca is a freelance writer and speaker who covers digestive conditions, including IBD. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 16.