Function of the Appendix: Definition, Functions, Problems Associated with this Organ and its Treatments

We speak of a thin tube, shaped like a blind worm, which is part of the gastrointestinal tract.

Its average length is 8-10 cm, varying in size from 2 to 20 cm long.

In humans and some other mammals, there is a structure that protrudes from the cecum, known as the ” vermiform appendix ” or “cecal appendix.”

The appendix appears during the fifth month of gestation, and several lymphoid follicles are scattered in its mucosa. Such follicles increase in number when people reach between 8 and 20 years of age.

At the site where the small intestine and the large intestine meet, the appendix is ​​located, if we locate it from the outside it is located in the lower right part of the abdomen or McBurney’s point.

When pressure is applied to this area and pain or tenderness occurs, it may be suspected that the diagnosis may be appendicitis.

Appendix function

In the past it was not very clear what role the appendix plays in the human body, and removal of the organ does not appear to have negative health consequences.

Many scientists believed that the appendix was a vestigial organ, and that it lost its original function through centuries of evolution.

On this basis, Charles Darwin theorized that this was a ‘vestigial organ’, a useless remnant of something our distant ancestors used in our evolutionary history, when we supposedly ate mostly vegetation, like leaves.

As our diet changed, our digestive system supposedly evolved, causing a previously much larger cecum to shrink, leaving a useless remnant in the shape of the appendix.

The “safe house” theory of the appendix

Researchers tracked the appendix’s appearance, disappearance, and resurgence in various mammalian lineages over the past 11 million years, to determine how many times it was severed and recovered due to evolutionary pressures.

They found that the organ has evolved at least 29 times, possibly up to 41 times, throughout mammalian evolution, and has only been lost a maximum of 12 times.

A new study says it could actually serve an important biological function.

Current function of the appendix

Recent research now suggests that the appendix may play an important role.

Recent research has reported that the appendix plays an important role in the fetus and young adults.

Endocrine cells of the appendix that appear during embryonic development have been shown to produce various biogenic amines and peptide hormones. These compounds support through various biological (homeostatic) control mechanisms.

It is currently believed that in adult humans, the appendix is ​​essentially involved in immune functions.

Lymphoid tissue accumulates in the appendix shortly after birth, then reaches a maximum peak between 20 and 30 years of life and then rapidly diminishes, disappearing after 60 years of age.

In the early years of development of the individual, the function as a lymphoid organ of the appendix has been demonstrated. Collaborating with the maturation process of B lymphocytes and with the production of a class of antibodies called immunoglobulin A antibodies.

The production of molecules that help in the movement of lymphocytes to other parts of the human body is another of the activities where the appendix supports the lymphatic system, as has been reported by several researchers.

Thus, the function of the appendix appears to be to disperse the white blood cells to the wide variety of foreign substances and antigens that are present in the gastrointestinal tract of the individual.

The appendix possibly supports the suppression of the potentially destructive humoral present in the blood and the antibody, as well as the small structures called Peyer’s patches in other areas of the gastrointestinal tract, absorb antigens from the contents of the intestines and react to these contents.

The appendix is ​​an organ that plays a very important role in the physiological immune response and in the control of food, pharmacological, microbial or viral antigens of the individual’s lymphatic system.

Many researchers have asserted that, after an illness involving severe diarrhea (such as cholera or dysentery), the good bacteria stored in the appendix can repopulate the digestive tract.

The pool of beneficial bacteria in the appendix effectively “reboots” the digestive system in these severe cases when the disease kills all bacteria necessary for proper digestion.

However, despite all these scientific reports, this connection between local immune reactions and inflammatory bowel diseases, the autoimmune reactions in which the tissues attack the individual’s own tissues, is still currently under investigation.

The appendix in the past was generally removed and discarded during other abdominal surgeries thus avoiding any possibility of a subsequent attack of appendicitis.

But the appendix is ​​now spared in case it is needed for reconstructive surgery if the urinary bladder is removed.

In the practice of this surgery, a section of the intestine is used for the formation of a replacement bladder, where the appendix is ​​used to build a ‘sphincter muscle’ so that the patient does not lose continence or the ability to hold urine. at will.

In addition, it is used as a makeshift substitute when there are problems with the ureter, allowing urine to flow from the kidneys into the bladder.

As a result, the appendix, once thought of as non-functional tissue, is now viewed as an important “backup” that can be used in a variety of reconstructive surgical techniques, no longer routinely removed and discarded if healthy.

Health problems related to the appendix

Appendicitis and whose causes are generally associated with:

  • Hard stools
  • Parasites
  • Ingested objects that cannot be digested.
  • Abdominal trauma
  • Gastrointestinal ulcers.
  • Enlarged appendix of lymphatic tissue.

Tumors of the appendix are rare. Carcinoid tumors that secrete chemicals that cause periodic redness, wheezing, and diarrhea have been reported in the appendix. Epithelial tumors are seen as growths in the appendix that can be benign or cancerous.

Diagnosis of conditions of the appendix

Medical exam

A simple examination of the abdomen by pressing the McBurney point is still the first test to make the diagnosis. In addition to an observation if there have been changes in the abdomen.

Imaging tests

In appendicitis, CT scans, MRIs and ultrasounds can show the inflamed appendix and if it has ruptured, they are also performed when the presence of a tumor is suspected because the presence of growths and their location can be observed.

Complete blood count

An increase in the number of white blood cells, a sign of infection and inflammation, is often seen in blood tests during appendicitis.



Removal of the appendix is ​​a surgery known as an appendectomy, if the problem is not treated, the pressure on the organ will increase until the appendix ruptures or explodes.

The doctor can use the traditional or laparoscopic surgical technique (several small cuts in the skin and the introduction of a micro surgical team using a camera to see inside).

Surgery is also needed to remove tumors from the appendix. If the tumor is large, it may require more aggressive surgery with the removal of part of the colon.


While treatment is questionable, antibiotics treat any potential infection that may be causing the symptoms. In general, antibiotics alone cannot effectively treat appendicitis.

Appendix Removal, Safety Against Benefits

One of the first things you learn about evolution is that the human body has a number of ‘vestigial’ parts, such as the appendix, the wisdom teeth, the coccyx, which are gradually discontinued as we adapt to styles of life more advanced than our primitive ancestors.

But while our wisdom teeth are definitely causing us more pain than good right now, the human appendix could be more than just a ticking time bomb in the abdomen.

For years, scientists and doctors have studied the appendix, hoping to learn why this short, thin tube is located in the lower right part of the abdomen.

Over the years, most experts have concluded that the appendix is ​​simply a useless remnant of humans’ long evolutionary past.

However, it can cause problems. For reasons that are often unclear, the appendix can become inflamed and infected, causing severe abdominal pain. This condition, called appendicitis, requires surgery to remove the infected appendix.

If the surgery doesn’t happen quickly enough, the infected appendix can rupture. If it ruptures, it can spread the infection through the abdominal cavity, creating a life-threatening situation.

Once it is removed nothing happens, people continue to live very well without an appendix. It is this fact that has for years reinforced the view that the appendix was useless at all.

The fact that some scientists have reported evidence suggesting that the appendix may play a role in certain situations, such as a storage room for good bacteria, and replacement tissue, and may have found a purpose for the appendix, has not deprived them of Researchers warn, that this is not a reason to keep the appendix.

The risk of infection in the event of appendicitis is much more serious than the need to maintain a reservoir of beneficial digestive tissue and bacteria.