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What Is Rovsing's Sign?

By Jillian O Keeffe
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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When the human body suffers an injury or a disease, then the body can display certain signs that doctors recognize and use to narrow down the possibilities. Infection of the appendix is one condition which may result in a specific type of indicator called Rovsing's Sign. In this situation, a person with appendicitis may experience pain in the right hand area of the abdomen when pressure is applied to the left hand side.

The appendix is a small, hollow organ that is attached to one end of the large intestine. Functionally, the appendix does not appear to have any use in modern day humans, but is still present as an ancestral remnant. Unfortunately for some people, this empty pouch can become infected and if the pouch breaks open, it can potentially cause fatal disease.

Most people experience typical appendicitis symptoms when they suffer from the infection. A pain in the vicinity of the bellybutton that worsens quickly is one of the common signs. This pain develops quickly and the affected person can feel the location of the pain moving to the right hand side of their abdomen. A minority of people, however, experience different symptoms that feel like they are constipated, or that the pain comes from a more generalized source, such as inflamed bowels.

Doctors look for the classic signs of appendicitis when they examine a patient, but they also look for other warning signs. In the case of abdominal pain, a physical examination is typically necessary. To do this, doctors feel and press on the patient's abdomen, and look for sore areas. In the case of appendicitis, five signs of soreness indicate the presence of the disease.

If a patient tenses his or her stomach muscles before or at the time the doctor touches them, then this indicates a problem. The muscles themselves can cause pain if moved in a certain way, and the doctor may ask the patient to move his or her legs in specific ways to see if this occurs. Rovsing's Sign is another test for the presence of appendicitis in the doctor's repertoire.

To assess a patient for Rovsing's Sign, the doctor pushes gently on the left hand side of the area below the ribs. Patients who feel a pain on the opposite side of the abdomen are positive for Rovsing's Sign. Another positive indicator of the sign is if the patient feels the pain on the opposite side when the doctor takes away the pressure altogether.

This indicator of appendicitis received its name from the man discovering this diagnostic technique, who was a professor in Sweden named Thorkild Rovsing. Part of a modern doctor's repertoire of diagnostic tricks, the sign was first noted in 1907. Not all cases of appendicitis exhibit this sign.

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