What is appendicitis?
Appendicitis is inflammation of the
appendix. It may be acute or chronic.
The National Institute of Diabetes and
Digestive and Kidney Diseases states that appendicitis is the most
common cause of abdominal pain resulting in surgery in the United States. About
5 percent of the American population experiences appendicitis at some point in
Appendicitis can occur at any time,
but it occurs most often between the ages of 10 and 30. It’s more common in men
than in women. Complications from appendicitis can be serious and even fatal.
What causes appendicitis?
many cases, the cause for appendicitis is unknown. There can also be multiple
causes for any one case of appendicitis. Doctors believe that one cause of this
condition an obstruction in the appendix. Obstruction may be either partial or
complete. Complete obstruction is a cause for emergency surgery.
Obstruction is often due to an
accumulation of fecal matter. It can also be the result of:
When there’s an obstruction in your
appendix, bacteria can multiply inside the organ. This leads to the formation
of pus. The increased pressure can be painful. It can also compress local blood
vessels. A lack of blood flow to the appendix may cause gangrene.
If the appendix ruptures, fecal matter
can fill the abdomen. This is a medical emergency.
Peritonitis is one possible
consequence of a ruptured appendix. It’s an inflammation of the tissue that
lines the abdominal wall. Other organs can also become inflamed after a
rupture. Affected organs may include the cecum, bladder, and sigmoid colon.
If the infected appendix leaks instead
of ruptures, it can form an abscess. This confines the infection to a small
walled off area. However, an abscess can still be dangerous.
What are the symptoms of
Symptoms of appendicitis include:
- pain around
- lower right
side abdominal pain
- loss of
- inability to
- low grade
- a sense you
might feel better after passing stool
You may experience one or more of
Appendicitis pain may start off as
mild cramping. It often becomes more steady and severe with time. You won’t
necessarily notice changes in your bowel habits. However, sometimes
appendicitis can affect urination.
If you suspect you may have
appendicitis, you should avoid taking laxatives or having an enema. The Cleveland Clinic notes that these treatments can cause
your appendix to burst if you’re experiencing appendicitis.
If you have right side tenderness
along with any of these other symptoms, talk to a doctor. Appendicitis can
quickly become a medical emergency. Rupture rarely happens within the first 24
hours of symptoms.
A perforated appendix can be fatal.
The risk of death is highest in infants and the elderly.
How is appendicitis
Your doctor will begin by performing a
physical exam. A physical exam for appendicitis looks for tenderness in the
lower right quadrant of your abdomen. If you’re pregnant, the pain may be
higher. If perforation occurs, your stomach may become hard and swollen.
A swollen, rigid belly is a symptom
that should be discussed with a doctor right away.
In addition to looking for tenderness,
your doctor will perform several tests for appendicitis:
- Urinalysis can rule out a urinary tract
infection or kidney stone.
- Pelvic exams can make certain that women
don’t have reproductive problems. They can also rule out other pelvic
tests can rule out a suspected ectopic
imaging can determine if you have an
abscess or other complications. This may be done with an X-ray, ultrasound, or
- Chest X-ray can rule out right lower lobe
pneumonia. This sometimes has symptoms similar to appendicitis.
What are the treatment
options for appendicitis?
Treatment for appendicitis varies.
In rare cases, appendicitis may get
better without surgery. Treatment might involve only antibiotics and a liquid
In most cases, however, surgery will
be necessary. The type of surgery will depend on the details of your case.
If you have an abscess that hasn’t
ruptured, you may receive antibiotics first. Your doctor will then drain your
abscess using a tube placed through your skin. Surgery will remove your
appendix after you’ve received treatment for the infection.
If you have a ruptured abscess or
appendix, surgery may be necessary right away. Surgery to remove the appendix
is known as an appendectomy.
A doctor can perform this procedure as
open surgery or through a laparoscopy. Laparoscopy is less invasive, making the
recovery time shorter. However, open surgery may be necessary if you have an
abscess or peritonitis.
How can I prevent
You can’t prevent appendicitis, but
there are steps you can take to lower your risk. It’s less common in people who
have diets high in fiber. Eating a healthy diet that contains lots of fresh
fruits and vegetables increases your fiber intake.
Seek medical attention immediately if
you think you have appendicitis. Untreated appendicitis can become a medical