Appendicitis happens when your appendix, a small finger-shaped structure that sticks out from your large intestine on the right side, gets inflamed and filled with pus. The inflammation is usually caused by a blockage, but may be caused by an infection.
Without treatment, an inflamed appendix can rupture, causing the lining of the abdomen to get infected. That can be a life-threatening condition.
Appendicitis is one of the most common causes of emergency abdominal surgery. Up to 75,000 appendectomies are done each year in the U.S.
Signs and Symptoms
The following signs and symptoms may accompany appendicitis:
- Pain, starting around the navel, then moving down and to the right side of the abdomen. The pain gets worse when moving, taking deep breaths, coughing, sneezing, or being touched in this area.
- Loss of appetite
- Change in bowel movements, including diarrhea or not being able to have a bowel movement or pass gas
- Low fever that starts after other symptoms
- Urinating often, or difficult or painful urination
What Causes It?
Appendicitis usually happens after an infection in the digestive tract, or when the tube connecting the intestine to the appendix is blocked by trapped feces or food. Both situations cause inflammation, which can lead to infection or rupture of the appendix.
Who's Most At Risk?
The following factors can put you at higher risk for developing appendicitis:
- Family history
- Age -- children 2 years of age or younger and people 70 years of age or older are at higher risk for a ruptured appendix
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Appendicitis is an emergency, because the appendix could rupture. If you have appendicitis symptoms, you should go to an emergency room.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and your medical history, do a physical exam to check for abdominal tenderness, and may order blood and urine tests. Some health care providers use ultrasound to check whether the appendix is inflamed, and to rule out ovarian cysts or ectopic pregnancy in women. You may also have a computed tomography (CT) scan.
There is no sure way to prevent appendicitis. However, eating a diet that includes fresh vegetables and fruit may lower your risk of getting appendicitis.
Appendicitis is usually treated with surgery and antibiotics. Along with antibiotics, you may get intravenous (IV) fluids and medication to control vomiting. If your doctor can't tell from the CT scan or ultrasound whether you have appendicitis, you may have exploratory surgery. If you do have appendicitis, your appendix will be removed (appendectomy).
Your health care provider may prescribe the following medications:
- Medications taken to ease nausea
Surgical and Other Procedures
An appendectomy is the surgical removal of the appendix through an incision in your abdomen that can be several inches long. A laparoscopic appendectomy involves making several tiny cuts in the abdomen and inserting a tiny camera and surgical instruments. The surgeon then removes the appendix through one of the small incisions. Recovery is usually faster than with traditional surgery, and the scars are smaller. However, not everyone is a candidate for a laparoscopic appendectomy.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Acute appendicitis is an emergency, and you should get medical help immediately. Never try to treat appendicitis with alternative therapies alone. Some studies show that certain herbs and supplements may help to prevent appendicitis, strengthen your immune system, or help you recover faster from surgery.
In England and Wales, a study reviewed whether a diet that was low in fiber and high in sugar and meat had any effect on people getting appendicitis. No specific link was found with sugar or meat. But the study did suggest that the more fresh and frozen green vegetables and fresh and processed tomatoes people ate, the less likely they were to get appendicitis. Eating green vegetables -- particularly cabbage, cauliflower, peas, beans, Brussels sprouts and maybe tomatoes -- may protect against appendicitis.
Appendicitis should be treated with surgery. Some herbs may help you recover faster from surgery. Ask your doctor to find out more.
Prognosis and Possible Complications
With treatment, people usually make a complete recovery from appendicitis, especially if the appendix does not rupture. In cases where the appendix ruptures, the death rate is higher, especially among the elderly.
Complications may include recurring appendicitis, inflammation of the abdominal lining, abscess (pus-filled inflamed area), sepsis or “blood poisoning," blocking of a fallopian tube, infertility, and wound infection. Appendicitis happens in only about 1 in 1,000 pregnancies.
If you have surgery, you will need to see your health care provider 2 weeks after the operation, and again at 6 weeks.
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