Appendix is a small thin appendage that grows from the caecum – (found in the large intestine). The appendix in humans is located on the abdomen’s lower right side. While the appendix performs digestive functions in other animal species, its role in the human body is unclear. However, appendicitis that refers to an inflammation of the appendix is a serious medical condition that requires prompt medical attention.
Appendicitis is caused when faecal matter or food gets stuck in the appendix’s narrow tube. This blockage leads to bacterial infections. If left unattended, appendicitis causes a rupture of the appendix, leading to the infected matter spreading throughout the abdominal cavity lining and is life-threatening. There is no age for anyone to get struck by appendicitis although it more commonly those below 30 years.
Symptoms of appendicitis
- Pain that is dull, vague, and centered around the navel, which can progress to the abdomen’s lower right hand side. As time progresses, the pain can get more intense and get localized on the abdomen’s lower right side just above the appendix (McBurney’s point). The stomach will become sensitive to pressure and rigid to touch. Pain will worsen until you experience sharp shooting pain even when you take a deep breath, sneeze or cough.
- Lower back pain or pain in the rectum or hamstring are also symptoms of appendicitis, although less common.
- Vomiting and nauseous feeling that can result in loss of appetite.
- Diarrhea causes loose and watery stools and very frequent bowel movement – more than 3-4 times a day. Diarrhea will be accompanied with bloating, cramping, bloating, nausea etc.
- Constipation is a symptom where you will not have any bowel movement for a few days. You will also suffer from an inability to pass gas.
- Low fever is another symptom that starts after the other symptoms and then slowly increases.
- Other symptoms include pain in the chest, shoulder and neck and a dizzy or light-headed feeling.
What to do?
Symptoms of appendicitis cannot be treated at home and require immediate medical attention. So, call for an ambulance or go to the emergency department of your nearest hospital. Apart from the above symptoms, call your health care provider if you have burning when urinating, excessive pain after meals, abdominal discomfort for a week or more, diarrhea for 5 days or more and unexpected weight loss.
It is important that you do not self-medicate with pain remedies, laxatives or antacids or use heating pads that can in fact cause the appendix to rupture if it is inflamed. You must also consult your doctor if you already have had an appendectomy. In such cases, the symptoms could be due to colorectal cancer, inflammatory diseases, tubal pregnancy, diverticulitis, gastroenteritis, Crohn’s disease or colitis that is an inflammation of the colon.
Treatment of appendicitis
If appendicitis is not treated at once, it can cause a rupture or perforation of the appendix leading to peritonitis, a severe and life-threatening abdominal infection, since infected matter will flood this cavity. Hence, you must seek treatment quickly if you experience any symptoms mentioned above, for perforation or bursting can take place approximately 36 hours after infection sets in.
If the doctor suspects you have appendicitis, you will need to undergo some tests like urine and blood tests, CT and ultrasound scans. Sometimes a diagnostic laparoscopy can be done when a doctor can examine your appendix and see if you require surgery.
Treatment involves surgical removal of the appendix as an emergency operation and IV antibiotics. The surgery is called appendectomy where the appendix is removed using laparoscopic surgery. If laparoscopy is not possible, the surgeon performs a laparatomy. He will make a tiny incision at the base of the abdomen, remove the appendix and suture the wound. In cases of ruptured or perforated appendix, the surgeon will also need to insert a tube to drain out the pus lodged in the abdominal cavity. IV antibiotics will help to reduce the risk of developing peritonitis.
If a patient is very weak and cannot undergo surgery, antibiotic therapy may be followed. This sometimes resolve the problem without the need for surgery. Along with a course of antibiotics, a diet of soft food and liquids will be suggested to arrest the infection.
While tests are done to diagnose appendicitis, they are not perfect and often during an operation, it will be revealed that your appendix is perfectly normal. This means that there is some other problem. The surgeon will remove the appendix as a precaution and then explore the rest of the abdomen for other reasons for the pain.
Sometimes the CT scan will reveal that you have developed an abscess after the appendix has been ruptured. Since this is infected, you will first be treated for the infection. Only when it is under control and the inflammation has reduced will the surgeon perform the appendectomy.
Appendicitis : Prevention and Precaution
If the appendix has been removed without perforations, then recovery post-surgery will be swift and uncomplicated. In cases of a ruptured appendix, the recovery could be slower depending on whether there were other complications like an abscess, fistula or peritonitis.
The symptoms of appendicitis mimic other health problems like ectopic pregnancy, infections of the chest and kidney and gastroenteritis. Hence, symptoms must be tested only in a hospital and treatment provided by a registered doctor. If pregnant women have appendicitis, the symptoms could vary. For example, their pain can be localized higher up in the abdomen.
You must call the doctor after your appendectomy, if you have the following symptoms:
- Uncontrolled vomiting
- Blood in urine, vomit or stool
- Severe pain in the abdomen
- Dizziness or a faint feeling
In general, there is no way to predict or prevent appendicitis. No particular risk factors are attached to developing this medical condition. Some researchers have suggested that those who consume a mainly low-fiber, high sugar diet, suffer from infections or have a family history can be prone to appendicitis.