Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix. It’s a medical emergency that almost always requires surgery as soon as possible to remove the appendix. Luckily, you can live just fine without it. Appendicitis causes pain in your lower right abdomen. However, in most people, pain begins around the navel and then moves. As inflammation worsens, appendicitis pain typically increases and eventually becomes severe. If left untreated, appendicitis can cause your appendix to burst. This can cause bacteria to spill into your abdominal cavity, which can be serious and sometimes fatal.
Where Is Your Appendix?
This 3 1/2-inch-long tube of tissue extends from your large intestine on the lower right side of your body.
Symptoms for Appendicitis
Signs and symptoms of appendicitis may include:
- Sudden pain that begins on the right side of the lower abdomen.
- Pain in your lower right belly or pain near your navel that moves lower. This is usually the first sign.
- Sudden pain that begins around your navel and often shifts to your lower right abdomen.
- Can’t pass gas.
- Pain that worsens if you cough, walk or make other jarring movements.
- Fever of 99-102 degrees.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Swollen belly.
- Loss of appetite.
- Low-grade fever that may worsen as the illness progresses.
- Dull or sharp pain anywhere in your upper or lower belly, back or rear end.
- Constipation or diarrhea.
- Severe cramps.
- Abdominal bloating.
- The pain is so difficult to pinpoint that when asked to point to the area of the pain, most people indicate the location of the pain with a circular motion of their hand around the central part of their abdomen.
- Abdominal Swelling
A blockage in the lining of the appendix that results in infection is the likely cause of appendicitis. Many things can potentially block your appendix, including:
- The bacteria multiply rapidly, causing the appendix to become inflamed, swollen and filled with pus. If not treated promptly, the appendix can rupture.
- Blockage may also result from infection, since the appendix can swell in response to any infection in the body.
- Although it can strike at any age, appendicitis is rare in children younger than 2. It’s most likely to affect people between the ages of 10 and 30.
- A buildup of hardened stool.
- Enlarged lymphoid follicles.
- Intestinal worms.
- Traumatic injury.
When your appendix becomes blocked, bacteria can multiply inside it.
Physical exam to assess your pain. Your doctor may apply gentle pressure on the painful area. When the pressure is suddenly released, appendicitis pain will often feel worse, signaling that the adjacent peritoneum is inflamed.
Your doctor may also look for abdominal rigidity and a tendency for you to stiffen your abdominal muscles in response to pressure over the inflamed appendix (guarding). Examination of your abdomen to look for inflammation.
- Blood test. This allows your doctor to check for a high white blood cell count, which may indicate an infection.
- Urine test. Your doctor may want you to have a urinalysis to make sure that a urinary tract infection or a kidney stone isn’t causing your pain.
- Pelvic exam. If you’re female, your symptoms might be caused by pelvic inflammatory disease and ovarian cyst or another condition affecting your reproductive organs.
- Imaging tests. Your doctor may also recommend an abdominal X-ray, an abdominal ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to help confirm appendicitis or find other causes for your pain.
- Complete blood count. To check for signs of infection, your doctor may order a complete blood count (CBC). To conduct this test, they will collect a sample of your blood and send it to a lab for analysis.
- Chest imaging tests. Pneumonia in the lower right lobe of your lungs can also cause symptoms similar to appendicitis. If your doctor thinks you might have pneumonia, they will likely order a chest X-ray. They may also order a CT scan to create detailed images of your lungs.
Appendicitis is almost always treated as an emergency. Surgery to remove the appendix, which is called an appendectomy, is the standard treatment for almost all cases of appendicitis.
During a laparoscopic appendectomy, the surgeon inserts special surgical tools and a video camera into your abdomen to remove your appendix. In general, laparoscopic surgery allows you to recover faster and heal with less pain and scarring. It may be better for older adults and people with obesity.
If you have an abscess that hasn’t ruptured, your doctor may treat the abscess before you undergo surgery. To start, they will give you antibiotics.
There’s no way to prevent appendicitis. But it may be less common in people who eat foods high in fiber, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
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