Overview Of Appendicitis
Appendicitis is a condition in which the appendix becomes inflamed. The appendix is a small pouch-like section of the large intestine with an unknown function.
Causes Of Appendicitis
Appendicitis is a somewhat common occurrence, and is also one of the leading causes of emergency surgery.
The appendix often gets inflamed because of a blockage or infection of some type. Examples include foreign objects that get stuck in it, a nearby tumor, the appendix becoming blocked by feces, or in some rare cases parasites.
Appendicitis symptoms can vary quite significantly between different people. The condition is hardest to detect in older adults, young children, and non-menopausal women.
The first noticed symptom is abdominal pain, usually located around the navel or mid-to-upper abdomen. The pain will then often move to the lower right portion of the abdomen, and tends to focus on a specific spot directly above the appendix. This area is called McBurney’s point. It’s often used for diagnosis.
This movement of pain usually begins 12-24 hours after the first onset of discomfort.
Also, the pain may begin at a minor level, but can ramp up over time to severe and sharp. People may also experience nausea, vomiting, a loss of appetite, or a low-grade fever.
Pain can worsen with coughing, walking, or movements of any kind. Symptoms that may present later on can include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hard stools/constipation or diarrhea
Exams & Tests
Health care providers often suspect appendicitis based on the relatively recognizable symptoms listed above.
The health care provider will perform a physical exam. Pressing the area known as McBurney’s point (lower right abdomen) will increase the person’s pain.
If the appendix has ruptured, any touching of any part of the abdomen can lead to intense pain for the person. They may automatically shy away from any touching of the abdomen.
A rectal exam may reveal tenderness on the right side of the person’s rectum.
A blood test will usually reveal a high count of white blood cells.
Imaging tests can help diagnose appendicitis. The most commonly used tests are a CT scan of the abdominal area and an ultrasound of the abdomen.
Treatment Of Appendicitis
The vast majority of appendicitis cases result in an emergency surgery right after diagnosis. This surgery, called an appendectomy, will remove the appendix.
If a CT scan shows that the person has an abscess (an accumulation of infected pus in a specific area) they may need treatment with antibiotics before the appendectomy. Surgeons will then remove the appendix after the swelling and infection of the area has subsided.
Sometimes, in very rare situations, the diagnosis of appendicitis can be incorrect. Surgeons often discover this once surgery has begun. During surgery, surgeons will find that the appendix is normal, instead of inflamed.
The surgeon will still remove it, just in case. The appendix does not have a recognizable function, so removing it as a precaution is not harmful. The surgeon will then explore the rest of the person’s abdomen, in search of something else that could be causing the person’s pain. Whether or not they find the issue and are able to fix it depends on the situation.