Appendicitis

What is appendicitis?

Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix, a small portion of the large intestine that hangs down from the lower right side. Although the appendix does not seem to serve any purpose, it can still become diseased. If untreated, an inflamed appendix can burst, causing infection and even death. About 1 in 500 people has appendicitis each year.

Appendicitis may occur after a viral infection in the digestive tract or when the tube connecting the large intestine and appendix is blocked by trapped stool. The inflammation can cause infection, a blood clot, or rupture of the appendix. Because of the risk of rupture, appendicitis is considered an emergency. Anyone with symptoms needs to see a doctor immediately. Symptoms include

Pain in the right side of the abdomen. The pain usually begins near the navel and moves down and to the right. The pain becomes worse when moving, taking deep breaths, coughing, sneezing, and being touched in the area.

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Inability to pass gas
  • Low fever that begins after other symptoms
  • Abdominal swelling

Not everyone has all symptoms. It is important that people with symptoms of appendicitis not take laxatives or enemas to relieve constipation because these medicines could cause the appendix to burst. People also should not take pain medicine because it can mask symptoms that the doctor needs to know about.

The doctor bases an appendicitis diagnosis on symptoms, a physical exam, blood tests to check for signs of infection such as a high white blood cell count, and urine tests to rule out a urinary tract infection. Some doctors use ultrasound to see whether the appendix looks inflamed. Treatment is surgery to remove the appendix, called appendectomy. Doctors are beginning to use laparoscopic surgery for appendectomy. This technique involves making several tiny cuts in the abdomen and inserting a miniature camera and surgical instruments. The surgeon then removes the appendix with the instruments, so there is no need to make a large incision in the abdomen. People can live a normal life without their appendix–no changes in diet, exercise, or other lifestyle factors are necessary.