What is Appendicitis?
Appendicitis is the inflammation of the appendix, a tiny organ found in the lower right part of the abdomen. It is a common condition, with up to 7 percent of the population being affected by it. Appendicitis can affect people of all ages and genders, but is most commonly seen in people between 10 and 30 years old.
Appendicitis is a serious condition that requires prompt medical attention. If left untreated, it can lead to the appendix bursting and causing a life-threatening bacterial infection. The signs and symptoms of appendicitis may start off mild and be mistaken for indigestion or stomach flu.
The pain typically begins around the navel or upper abdomen, and will usually worsen and localize to the right lower abdomen within one or two days. Other symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, fever, loss of appetite, and constipation or diarrhea. If you experience severe abdominal pain, seek medical attention right away.
A doctor will be able to diagnose appendicitis through a physical examination and laboratory tests, such as a blood test or a CT Scan. If appendicitis is diagnosed, the patient will need to have surgery to remove the appendix. This surgery is known as an appendectomy.
What is the Appendix?
The appendix is a small, thin tube connected to the large intestine located in the lower right area of the abdomen. It functions as an immunological organ when a person is a child, helping the body fight off disease. However, as a person grows older, the appendix stops performing this task and other organs take over its duties.
Although the appendix is no longer a working part of our immune system, it has a few other possible functions. For example, it can help to control the levels of bacteria in the intestines, as well as being a source of stem cells. It is also believed to be involved in the growth and development of the embryo.
What Causes Appendicitis?
The most common cause of appendicitis is a blockage of the appendix, which is the thin, tube-like structure that is located at the end of the large intestine. This blockage can be caused by a variety of factors, including the accumulation of stool or mucus, an infection in the digestive tract, or a tumor in the area.
Another potential cause of appendicitis is a viral infection, such as the one that causes a stomach bug. Viruses can cause inflammation of the appendix and other parts of the digestive tract. In some cases, appendicitis may be caused by a structural abnormality of the appendix. This abnormality can be present from birth or may develop over time.
Finally, appendicitis may also be caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking the appendix. This is known as an autoimmune condition and can be caused by a variety of things, including allergies or medications. No matter the cause, appendicitis is a serious medical condition and can lead to severe complications if left untreated.
Who is at Risk for Appendicitis?
While it is true that anyone can be affected by appendicitis, some individuals are more likely to develop the condition than others. For example, children who have cystic fibrosis are at an increased risk of being affected by appendicitis. Both gender are susceptible to this condition with a slight increased in incidence in males.
There is a higher incidence of appendicitis in younger people whom are less than 30 years old. However, this can still occur in the older age group as well. The older the patient with the diagnosis of appendicitis, the more important it is to exclude secondary causes of appendicitis like a tumor or polyp causing obstruction at the appendiceal orifice.
What are the Symptoms of Appendicitis?
The symptoms of appendicitis can range from mild to more severe, depending on the individual and the severity of the condition. In general, the most common symptom of appendicitis is abdominal pain. This pain typically begins around the belly button and then moves to the lower right side of the abdomen. It may worsen over time and be worsened by movement, taking deep breaths, being touched, coughing, or sneezing.
If the appendix has already ruptured, the pain may be felt throughout the abdomen. Other symptoms of appendicitis include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Fever and chills
- Difficulty passing gas
- Swelling in the abdomen
It’s important to note that the symptoms of appendicitis can resemble other medical issues. Therefore, it’s important to seek medical attention if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms. Your healthcare provider can properly diagnose the condition and provide the appropriate treatment.
How is Appendicitis Diagnosed?
When diagnosing appendicitis, doctors will typically look for a combination of symptoms, such as pain in the lower right-hand side of the abdomen, fever, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. A physical exam may be done to check for tenderness of the abdomen and the presence of fever. The typical finding of rebound tenderness over the McBurney’s point is a classical sign for appendicitis. The other less common finding is Rovsing’s sign, when pain is experienced on palpation over the opposite side of the abdomen!
The doctor may also order a blood test to look for signs of infection and an imaging test such as an abdominal CT scan. Less commonly an ultrasound or MRI is used to confirm the diagnosis and this is usually done in children and pregnant ladies to avoid the effect of radiation in the more susceptible populations. The most reliable way to confirm the presence of appendicitis is by using a laparoscopy, which involves the insertion of a small camera through a small incision in the abdomen to examine the appendix.
Early diagnosis is key to avoid further complications such as a rupture of the appendix, which can lead to a life-threatening infection. Treatment for acute appendicitis typically involves antibiotics and surgery to remove the appendix. Surgery is usually recommended for cases of appendicitis due to the risk of rupture.
What are the Dangers of Appendicitis?
If left untreated, appendicitis can become life-threatening. The most serious complications arise when the appendix ruptures, leading to a spreading infection. When the appendix becomes inflamed, it can swell, blocking the flow of fluids and waste in the abdominal area.
This can lead to a buildup of pressure, which can cause the appendix to burst, releasing bacteria and other toxins into the abdominal cavity. It is important to seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of the symptoms of appendicitis.
Early treatment can help to reduce the risk of complications and can even prevent the appendix from bursting. Seek medical attention as soon as possible, even if you are only experiencing mild symptoms.
If the appendix ruptures, an abscess may form and bacteria may spread to the entire abdomen, causing a serious condition called peritonitis, an inflammation of the abdominal wall lining. If the appendix does rupture, then surgery is typically necessary to remove the abscess.
Very young children (aged two and below) and the elderly (aged 70 and above) are also at higher risk for a ruptured appendix. It is important for these age groups to seek medical attention immediately if they experience any abdominal pain.
How is Appendicitis Treated?
The treatment for appendicitis depends on the severity of the condition. If the appendix has not yet burst, the doctor will likely recommend surgery to remove the appendix. This type of surgery is called an appendectomy.
During surgery, the surgeon will make a small incision in the lower right side of the abdomen. The surgeon will then locate the appendix and remove it. After the appendix is taken out, the incision will be closed with stitches.
In many cases, the appendix can be removed without any major complications. In situations where the appendix has already burst, your doctor may recommend a procedure called a laparotomy.
During a laparotomy, the surgeon will make a larger incision in the abdomen to allow for drainage of the pus and fluid that has accumulated in the abdomen. The surgeon will then remove the appendix and any other infected tissue.
In some cases, doctors may recommend antibiotics to treat the infection associated with mild appendicitis. Though mostly effective in such patients, the estimated risk of recurrence is in excess of 15%. This percentage goes higher when there is presence of a phelgmon or an appendicolith (stone in the appendix). Therefore, the more common treatment remains to be surgery.
What are the Possible Complications of Appendicitis?
The most serious complication of appendicitis is a burst appendix. If a person has appendicitis and does not receive timely medical attention, the appendix can become so inflamed that it eventually ruptures, leading to leakage of intestinal contents into the abdomen.
This is a very serious complication as it can lead to infection of the abdomen, known as peritonitis. Peritonitis is a severe infection of the abdominal cavity and can be life-threatening. It is caused by bacteria traveling through the bloodstream from the burst appendix.
If peritonitis is left untreated, it can cause serious damage to the abdominal organs and even cause death. This is why it is so important to seek medical attention immediately after experiencing symptoms of appendicitis. In some cases, a burst appendix can lead to an abscess, which is a pocket of pus that can form in the abdominal region.
An abscess can cause pain, fever and other complications, and may require further treatment or surgery. Other potential complications of appendicitis include blockages in the intestine, which can cause nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. These blockages can occur if the appendix has become twisted.
It also occurs if scar tissue has formed around the appendix. In rare cases, appendicitis can cause a serious complication known as sepsis. Sepsis is caused by a bacterial infection that spreads throughout the body, and can be very dangerous. It is important to seek medical attention if you experience any signs of sepsis.
Although appendicitis can be a very serious condition, with timely treatment, it is usually possible to overcome the condition with minimal or no complications. If you experience any symptoms of appendicitis, it is important to seek medical attention to ensure that the condition is properly treated and that any potential complications are avoided.