Appendicitis is a painful medical condition in which the appendix becomes inflamed and filled with pus — a fluid made up of dead cells and inflammatory tissue that often results from an infection. Appendicitis causes sudden severe abdominal pain. The appendix is a small organ attached to the large intestine in the lower right side of the belly.
Appendicitis is a medical emergency that almost always requires prompt surgery to remove the appendix. It is very common worldwide and the most common reason for emergency abdominal surgeries. One study suggests that the appendix may have some role in gut immunity, but nothing is definite. One thing we do know: We can live without it, without apparent consequences.
Left untreated, the inflammation of this abdominal organ can be a serious, life-threatening condition. The appendix to burst (a ruptured appendix), spreading an infection throughout the abdomen. Although anyone can develop appendicitis, most often it occurs in people between the ages of 10 and 30.
What causes appendicitis
It’s not exactly clear what the causes of appendicitis are. Most cases are thought to occur when something blocks the entrance of the appendix. It can be due to stool, a foreign body, or cancer. Blockage may also occur from infection, since the appendix can swell in response to any infection in the body.
Signs and symptoms of appendicitis
Appendicitis typically starts with a pain in the middle of your tummy that may come and go. Within hours, the pain travels to your lower right-hand side. Because, it is where the appendix is usually located, and becomes constant and severe. Coughing or walking may all make the pain worse.
If you have appendicitis, you may also have other symptoms, including:
The typical symptoms of appendicitis don’t always occur. Sometimes people don’t show the telltale signs. This is more often in children and pregnant women. It also mimic many symptoms with other sources of abdominal pain, which can make it challenging to definitively diagnose.
The symptoms of appendicitis can be a lot like those of other medical problems such as kidney stones, pneumonia, or a urinary tract infection. So it can be a challenge for doctors to diagnose.
To find out if a child has appendicitis, a doctor will examine the belly for signs of pain and tenderness. The doctor will order blood tests and urine tests. Also an X-ray of the abdomen and chest, an ultrasound.
A surgeon will operate to take out the infected appendix. This is called an appendectomy. Most of the time, surgeons use a small device called a laparoscope to remove the appendix through a small cut on the belly. People who get this surgery usually stay in the hospital for a day.
The care team may give you intravenous (IV) fluids and antibiotics before and after surgery. This helps prevent problems such as an infection. You also get pain medicine if you need it.
People who had a burst appendix might need to stay in the hospital longer after an appendectomy. That gives the antibiotics time to kill any bacteria that spread into the body.
Because there’s no perfect test to confirm appendicitis, and other illnesses can cause symptoms similar to those of appendicitis, your doctor might find during appendectomy surgery that the appendix is not actually infected. According to the NIH, this can happen up to 25 percent of the time. If this occurs, your surgeon will often still remove the appendix to prevent further problems.
After surgery, call your doctor if you have signs of infection such as:
Increased pain, redness and swelling at the incision site
Pus or other discharges from the wound
Alternatives to emergency surgery
In some cases, appendicitis can lead to the development of a lump on the appendix called an appendix mass. This lump, consisting of appendix and fatty tissue, is an attempt by the body to deal with the problem and heal itself.
If an appendix mass is found during an examination, your doctors may decide it’s not necessary to operate immediately. Instead, you’ll be given a course of antibiotics and an appointment will be made for an appendectomy a few weeks later, when the mass has settled.
There is no way to prevent appendicitis. However, it may be less common in people who eat foods high in fiber, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
Felix Ntifo is a Registered General Nurse who has so much passion to improve health care delivery. He founded FelClinic with the hope of making health information accessible to everyone who may not come in contact with him personally.
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