Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix, which is connected to the colon. In most cases, appendicitis is an acute condition, but chronic appendicitis does occur as well. Appendicitis can be serious and potentially life-threatening if left untreated.
The appendix is a thin, finger-sized pouch connected to the first part of the large intestine (cecum). The appendix is located at the right lower quadrant (RLQ) of the abdomen. The exact function of the human appendix is unknown. Some scientists believe that the appendix is a remnant from our evolutionary past (vestigial organ), while others suggest it serves as a reservoir or "safe house" for the beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.
Appendicitis happens when the lining of the appendix is blocked or obstructed. Causes of appendicitis can be due to:
When a blockage of the appendix occurs, microorganisms invade the appendix wall and multiply. Hence, the appendix becomes inflamed, swollen, and forms pus.
Abdominal pain is the most common symptom of appendicitis, but symptoms can vary from person to person. Some common signs and symptoms of appendicitis include:
The symptoms of appendicitis can be confused with urological or gynecological problems. If appendicitis occurs during pregnancy, the signs of appendicitis may be mistaken for routine discomfort from pregnancy. It is because the appendix is higher during pregnancy, causing pain from the upper abdominal. Such appendicitis can lead to miscarriage if left untreated, so pregnant women should well-recognize the appendicitis symptoms. When your pain in the abdomen is progressively worsening, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Appendicitis can be acute or chronic. Both types are serious and require medical attention promptly.
Acute appendicitis occurs suddenly without warning and symptoms in 1-2 days. It is often noticeable because the symptoms are more severe and the pain would be progressively worsening
Chronic appendicitis, on the other hand, is a rare condition in which symptoms tend to be mild and last for a long time, and then disappear and reappear. It is hard to be diagnosed until acute appendicitis develops.
Anyone can get appendicitis, though the risk is increased by the following factors:
When appendicitis is not treated promptly, the appendix runs the risks of bursting (perforation) If the appendix is burst, it can lead to serious and possibly fatal complications such as:
Not everyone with appendicitis would develop some typical symptoms, and not everybody’s appendix is in the same place. Consequently, the presentation of appendicitis can be mistaken for other similar conditions, such as ectopic pregnancy, gastroenteritis, urinary tract infection and kidney stones, etc. Therefore, it is important to rule out other conditions and confirm the diagnosis by performing some of the following tests:
Appendicitis is a medical emergency that most often requires a type of surgery known as appendectomy (removal of the appendix), in order to prevent serious complications from a burst appendix. You do not have to worry about losing your appendix because living without it does not cause any health problems. There are 2 ways to perform an appendectomy:
Recent evidence has suggested the use of antibiotics without operation to treat uncomplicated appendicitis. It is usually employed as conservative management for patients who are not fit for surgery under general anesthesia, and it should be used only after careful assessment by your doctor.
Unfortunately, there’s no proven way to prevent appendicitis yet. Nevertheless, a high-fiber diet is claimed to be effective in reducing the risk of appendicitis, though the reason is not clearly understood yet. In general, fiber-rich foods include raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, and bran cereal.
Since an appendix has no known functions yet, you can live a normal life without your appendix. After laparoscopic surgery, the patient can usually go home 1 to 3 days after the surgery, depending on the degree of infection and severity of appendicitis. If an open surgery was performed instead or complications (burst appendix) occur, a longer recovery time in the hospital might be needed ( usually up to a week).
It may take several weeks to fully recover and return to normal or strenuous activities. During that time, your doctor may prescribe some antibiotics to prevent an infection after surgery. Painkillers are also helpful to support your recovery process.
After your surgery, if you experience symptoms such as repeated vomiting, fever, or worsening pain, you should visit your doctor right away as it may indicate a sign of infection.
The most common warning sign of appendicitis is the pain around the belly or the lower right side of the abdomen. Other signs and symptoms include worsening pain when you cough, sneeze or move, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, low-grade fever, inability to pass gas and constipation.
In some rare cases, appendicitis can go away on its own, but it is NOT recommended to treat it at home or leave it untreated by healthcare professionals. Appendicitis is regarded as a medical emergency that requires close monitoring and surgical procedures promptly. If left untreated, the appendix can cause potentially fatal complications.
As the symptoms of appendicitis are very similar to other conditions, appendicitis can sometimes be mistaken. Appendicitis can mimic ectopic pregnancy, gastroenteritis, urinary tract infection, kidney stones, pelvic inflammatory disease, Crohn’s disease, etc.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Kam Ming Ho Philip 甘明豪醫生. Dr. Kam is a specialist in general surgery in Hong Kong who is currently practicing at the Edinburgh Orthopaedic Spine And Surgery Centre.
This article was independently written by Healthy Matters. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.
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