What is appendicitis?
The appendix is a specific part of the large intestine, located at the region where the large intestine connects to the small intestine. Appendicitis is the inflammation of the appendix.
Why does it happen?
There are many reasons for appendicitis to occur. Causes include:
- Blockage of the appendix opening connected to the colon with stool
- Abdominal trauma
- Tumors and other growths in the colon
- Infections by bacteria, virus, parasites
When the appendix becomes swollen, it can block the proper blood supply. Without enough blood, the tissues of the appendix start to die and rupture. When the appendix ruptures, it can cause the contents of the colon to leak into the abdomen. This leakage can cause serious infections such as the peritonitis (inflammation of the tissue lining the inside of the abdomen) and septicemia (infection in the blood). A ruptured appendix can also form an abscess, which is a painful pocket of pus.
Who is at risk?
Appendicitis is one of the most common sources of abdominal emergencies. In South Korea, it mostly happens in people from 10-20 years old, but can happen at any age. Having a family history of appendicitis may increase your risk for developing appendicitis.
The most common symptom is abdominal pain. This pain:
- Starts suddenly near the belly button area and moves to the right lower part of the abdomen
- Starts suddenly near the right lower part of the abdomen
- Often gets worse over time
- Is worse with movement, being touched in the abdomen
Other common symptoms include
- Fevers and chills
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Swollen belly
- Nausea and vomiting
- Lack of appetite
How is it diagnosed?
To diagnose appendicitis, several testing can be done:
- Blood tests can show signals of infection in the body. Often, there will be an increase in white blood cells as well as other markers of inflammation
- Ultrasound uses high frequency sound waves to look for signs of appendicitis
- Computed tomography (CT) scan uses X rays to show cross sections of the body
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses radio waves and a magnet to show a more detailed cross-sectional view of the body
Appendicitis is often treated with antibiotics and IV fluids. In certain cases, your doctor may also recommend an appendectomy, which is a surgery to remove the appendix, to prevent other complications. If you develop an abscess, which is a painful pocket of infection, a surgeon can drain the abscess with a tube.
If diagnosed and treated early, appendicitis has excellent recovery. Most patients leave the hospital in 1-2 days. If you have an appendectomy, most people go back to their daily activities within 2-4 weeks. Living without an appendix causes no known health problems.
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