The appendix is a narrow, tube-like organ attached to the large intestine on the lower right side of the abdomen.
Appendicitis is the swelling (or inflammation) of the appendix.
The condition can cause the rupture of the appendix, a complication that can be life-threatening.
Anyone can develop the disease, but most people who suffer from appendicitis are between 10 and 30 years old.
The appendix is a thin tube, approximately 4 inches long, located at the junction of the small and large intestine on the right side of the abdomen. It produces mucus that travels to the large intestine.
The appendix is often considered a “useless” organ that does not fulfill any function in human beings but remains of a human ancestor.
However, in recent years, some scientists have hypothesized that the appendix does have a purpose.
One theory is that the appendix can be a storage unit for good bacteria, which can help restart the digestive system after a bacterial infection.
Abdominal pain is the most common symptom of acute appendicitis.
The pain usually begins near the navel and then moves to the lower right side of the abdomen, usually for 12 to 24 hours.
The pain often worsens if the patient takes deep breaths, coughs, or sneezes. People who experience persistent abdominal pain should see their health care provider immediately.
Other symptoms of appendicitis include:
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea or vomiting
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Low fever
- Abdominal swelling
Although the loss of appetite and fever are common symptoms of appendicitis, not all patients will have these symptoms.
Appendicitis may be more challenging to diagnose in the elderly, as they may not have the physical symptoms that younger people have, such as sensitivity in the abdomen.
In pregnant women, appendicitis pain may be in the upper right part of the abdomen because the appendix migrates upwards during pregnancy.
Among the causes may be a blockage of the appendix by:
- A strange object
- A tumor.
When the appendix is blocked, the normal bacteria in the organ multiply, causing inflammation and infection.
Appendicitis is more common in people in their teens and twenties, but it can happen.
There is no evidence that specific diets can prevent appendicitis. Appendicitis can be hereditary, so having a family history of appendicitis can increase a person’s risk of having it.
To diagnose appendicitis, doctors can perform the following tests:
- A physical exam that applies gentle pressure on the abdomen.
- Blood tests to detect infections.
- Urinalysis to detect kidney problems.
- Imaging tests include computed tomography or ultrasound.
Doctors usually perform a computerized tomography for adults and an ultrasound for children.
Appendicitis is usually treated with surgery to remove the appendix, called an appendectomy. Early surgery decreases the chances of the appendix exploding.
Most people with appendicitis recover quickly after surgery and do not need to make any changes in their lifestyle. Patients who suffer a ruptured appendix may take longer to recover.
If an inflamed appendix is not removed quickly, it may break. When the appendix ruptures, it can spill the infection throughout the abdomen, leading to a potentially dangerous condition called peritonitis, in which the lining of the abdominal cavity becomes infected.
The condition can cause sepsis or severe infection of the bloodstream.
People who have a broken appendix may feel less pain for a short time, but the pain will soon get worse and is likely to cause illness.
In most cases of peritonitis, the appendix is removed immediately with surgery.
This is usually done through a laparotomy (a single incision). When infection and inflammation are under control (usually after about six to eight weeks), surgeons remove what remains of the appendix burst.
In some cases, an abscess forms around the appendix. Surgeons usually drain the pus from the abscess before surgery with a tube placed through the abdominal wall.
After surgery, the drainage tube is left for about two weeks while the patient takes antibiotics.