Appendicitis

What is Appendicitis?

Extending from the large intestine, the appendix serves no useful purpose. However, there’s no disputing the need for immediate medical attention for appendicitis, an inflammation of the appendix often resulting in severe abdominal pain. Left untreated, appendicitis may result in a rupture of the appendix and its infectious contents with subsequent risk of peritonitis.

What are the Symptoms of Appendicitis?

Signs of Appendicitis

The appendix is unique in that it swells in response to any infection within the body. Appendicitis is caused by a blockage of the appendix, which may be caused by some type of physical blockage or result from an infection.

Symptoms include

  • Dull pain abdominal pain that becomes increasingly sharp towards the lower right side of the abdomen
  • Persistent low-grade fever
  • Swelling of the abdominal
  • Inability to pass gas
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Severe cramps

Diagnosing Appendicitis

Appendicitis that does not present severe, acute symptoms can be difficult to diagnose since abdominal pain can have many possible sources. If appendicitis is suspected, a urine test or a blood test can detect infection or a CT scan may be performed.

Appendicitis Causes

Many causes can be responsible for appendicitis, and the cause can also be unknown. Appendicitis may be caused by a blockage in the appendix. Blockages can completely obstruct the appendix or can be partial.

Obstruction can be caused by the buildup of fecal matter, but can also be caused by:

  • Trauma
  • Tumors
  • Enlarged lymphoid follicles
  • Worms

Bacteria tends to multiply within the organ when there is a blockage, which then causes pus to form. Pressure builds up and can be painful. Blood vessels are compressed, and gangrene can be caused by the absence of blood movement to the appendix.

Fecal matter can plug the abdomen if the appendix ruptures, which causes a medical emergency.

A ruptured appendix can also cause peritonitis, which is inflammation of the tissue on the wall of the abdomen. After a rupture, additional organs such as the bladder, cecum, and sigmoid colon can become swollen.

A leaking appendix, rather than a ruptured appendix, can form an abscess. This limits the infection to a small area, but abscesses can be hazardous.

How is Appendicitis Treated?

Surgery and non-surgery

Surgery is often performed to safely remove the appendix before it ruptures. Non-emergency surgery is typically a two-step procedure that includes draining the abscess before removing the appendix. There is research suggesting antibiotics may negate the need for surgery under certain circumstances.

Appendectomy

Prior to appendix removal, a patient may be given antibiotics to reduce the risk of peritonitis. If there is peritonitis present, the abdomen will be drained and irrigated.

Often occurring between the ages of 10 and 30, appendicitis is one of the most common medical emergencies in the United States. Recovery usually takes anywhere from a week to a month, depending on whether or not the appendix ruptured. The surgery itself has a high success rate.

Appendicitis Prevention

There is not a known prevention for appendicitis; however, physicians recommend certain lifestyle changes and dietary strategies that can reduce the risk.

Fresh fruits and vegetables that are rich in fiber should be included in a healthy diet. A healthy diet is a suitable strategy for preventing appendicitis, as is necessary to ensure the body has adequate fiber for proper stool passage through the digestive tract.

Stress levels should also be carefully managed, and it is important to get enough exercise. Supplements such as beta-carotene, zinc, and vitamin C can also assist in keeping the human body resilient against infection.

Being aware of and recognizing the signs of appendicitis early can help with receiving an accurate diagnosis. Appendicitis tests are important and can prevent aggravation of the illness.