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.
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.
People will get appendicitis at some point in their lives. 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.
Appendicitis happens when the appendix gets blocked, often by poop, a foreign body (something inside you that isn’t supposed to be there), or cancer. Blockage may also result from infection, since the appendix can swell in response to any infection in the body.
What Are the Symptoms of Appendicitis?
The classic symptoms of appendicitis include:
- Pain in your lower right belly or pain near your navel that moves lower. This is usually the first sign.
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting soon after belly pain begins
- Swollen belly
- Fever of 99-102 degrees
- Can’t pass gas
Other less common symptoms of appendicitis include:
- Dull or sharp pain anywhere in your upper or lower belly, back, or rear end
- Painful or difficult peeing
- Vomiting before your belly pain starts
- Severe cramps
- Constipation or diarrhea with gas
If you have any of these symptoms, see a doctor right away. Timely diagnosis and treatment are important. Don’t eat, drink, or use any pain remedies, antacids, laxatives, or heating pads.
How Is Appendicitis Diagnosed?
Diagnosing appendicitis can be tricky. Symptoms are often unclear or similar to those of other illnesses, including gallbladder problems, bladder or urinary tract infection, Crohn’s disease, gastritis, kidney stones, intestinal infection, and ovary problems.
These tests can help diagnose appendicitis:
- Examination of your abdomen to look for inflammation
- Urine (pee) test to rule out a urinary tract infection
- Rectal exam
- Blood test to see whether your body is fighting an infection
- CT scans
What Is the Treatment for Appendicitis?
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.
Generally, if your doctor suspects that you have appendicitis, they will quickly remove it to avoid a rupture. If you have an abscess, you may get two procedures: one to drain the abscess of pus and fluid, and a later one to take out the appendix. But some research shows that treating acute appendicitis with antibiotics may help you avoid surgery.
What to Expect During an Appendectomy
Before your appendix is taken out, you’ll take antibiotics to fight infection. You’ll usually get general anesthesia, meaning you’ll be asleep for the procedure. The doctor removes your appendix through a 4-inch-long cut or with a device called a laparoscope (a thin telescope-like tool that lets them see inside your belly). This procedure is called laparoscopy. If you have peritonitis, the surgeon will also clean out your belly and drain the pus.
You can get up and move around within 12 hours after surgery. You should be able to go back to your normal routine in 2 to 3 weeks. If you had a laparoscopy, recovery is faster.
After an appendectomy, call your doctor if you have:
- Uncontrolled vomiting
- Increased belly pain
- Dizziness/feelings of faintness
- Blood in your vomit or pee
- Increased pain and redness where your doctor cut into your belly
- Pus in the wound
Left untreated, an inflamed appendix will burst, spilling bacteria and debris into the abdominal cavity, the central part of your body that holds your liver, stomach, and intestines. This can lead to peritonitis, a serious inflammation of the abdominal cavity’s lining (the peritoneum). It can be deadly unless it is treated quickly with strong antibiotics.
Sometimes, an abscess forms outside an inflamed appendix. Scar tissue then “walls off” the appendix from the rest of your organs. This keeps the infection from spreading. But an abscessed appendix can tear and lead to peritonitis.
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.