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A visit to the primary care doctor may have saved her life.

Teresa’s day started with an early morning call to her primary care physician, Soma Mandal, MD. She’d been dealing with an unusual stomachache for two days and wanted to get it checked out. The day ended with her in the hospital.

“I could’ve ignored it — it wasn’t excruciatingly painful — but I knew something was wrong,” says Teresa.

Dr. Mandal, who has treated Teresa for several years, reviewed her medical history, performed a physical exam to assess her abdomen, and ordered blood testing. She agreed Teresa’s upper abdominal pain was unusual, given her health status, and recommended a computed tomography (CT) scan.

“Dr. Mandal helped me at a time when everything happened so fast,” says Teresa.

Fortunately, Summit Health’s radiology services were within walking distance and offered a same-day appointment. Teresa had a CT scan of her abdomen and was told she’d receive the results that afternoon. While driving home, Teresa got a call from Dr. Mandal — the scan detected an inflamed appendix, also known as appendicitis.

“She said, ‘I want you to go to the emergency room right now,” Teresa recalls.

Understanding appendicitis

Your appendix is a finger-shaped pouch that extends from the large intestine on the lower right side of your abdomen. Appendicitis occurs when the appendix becomes inflamed or infected, causing pain. It is a serious condition that requires immediate treatment.

Signs and symptoms of appendicitis may include:

  • Sudden pain that begins on the lower right side of the abdomen or pain that starts around your belly button and moves lower and to the right
  • Pain that worsens when you move, take deep breaths, cough, or sneeze
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever
  • Swollen belly

Dr. Mandal notes that Teresa’s upper belly pain differed from common appendicitis symptoms. “It wasn’t the classic pain in the lower abdomen or fever,” she says. But she recognized Teresa’s condition was just as urgent.

If appendicitis isn’t treated promptly, the appendix can burst or rupture. A ruptured appendix can spread infection throughout your abdomen. This infection, called peritonitis, can be life-threatening.

Connected care at the hospital

At the hospital, Teresa was connected with Yun Hsiang Wang, MD, a surgeon at Summit Health. Dr. Wang reviewed her CT scan and advised surgery to remove her failing appendix. The surgery, known as an appendectomy, is the standard treatment for appendicitis.

Surgeons perform appendectomies with an open procedure called laparotomy or, more commonly, laparoscopic surgery. For a laparoscopic appendectomy, surgeons make small incisions in the abdomen and insert a tiny camera called a scope while using special tools to remove the appendix. This minimally invasive procedure allows for faster healing and less pain.

While Teresa admits she was alarmed by the prospect of surgery, she took comfort in knowing Dr. Wang was a skilled surgeon who specialized in treating appendicitis. After her successful laparoscopic procedure, Teresa stayed overnight at the hospital and returned home to continue her recovery.

Today, Teresa is doing well. Her follow-up visit with Dr. Mandal included a big hug. “If she hadn’t discovered the appendicitis, I might not be here today,” says Teresa.

Dr. Mandal says that while she was Teresa’s “starting point,” she extends credit to Summit Health’s radiology services and Dr. Wang. “Everything was lined up for her, and it was all easily facilitated because Summit Health offered Teresa a network of connected care,” she says. “We provide a level of care you may not be able to get elsewhere.”

A note about appendicitis and abdominal pain

Appendicitis most commonly affects people in their 20s and 30s, but it can occur at any age. While its cause is often unclear, appendicitis is a serious condition that needs treatment as quickly as possible. You can live a normal life without your appendix if it needs to be removed.

Seek care right away if you experience appendicitis symptoms or any other gastrointestinal symptoms that concern you, such as severe abdominal pain or blood in the stool.