Appendix, the mysterious organ, is a thin tail, tube, or appendage, 3 1/2-inch-long, that extends from the large intestine. No one is absolutely certain what the function of the appendix is, although it clearly plays a role in digestion for other animal species. One thing we do know: We can live without it, without apparent consequences.
Appendicitis is a medical emergency that requires prompt surgery to remove the appendix. Left untreated, an inflamed appendix will eventually burst, or perforate, spilling infectious materials into the abdominal cavity. This can lead to peritonitis, a serious inflammation of the abdominal cavity’s lining (the peritoneum) that can be fatal unless it is treated quickly with strong antibiotics.
Though it can strike at any age, appendicitis is rare under age 2 and most common between ages 10 and 30.
Appendicitis occurs when the appendix becomes blocked, often by stool, a foreign body, or cancer. Blockage may also occur from infection, since the appendix swells in response to any infection in the body.
The classic symptoms of appendicitis include:
- Dull pain near the navel or the upper abdomen that becomes sharp as it moves to the lower right abdomen. This is usually the first sign.
- Loss of appetite.
- Nausea and/or vomiting soon after abdominal pain begins.
- Abdominal swelling.
- Fever of 99-102 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Inability to pass gas.
Almost half the time, other symptoms of appendicitis appear, including painful urination, vomiting that precedes the abdominal pain, severe cramps, and constipation or diarrhea with gas.
If you have any of the mentioned symptoms, seek medical attention immediately since timely diagnosis and treatment is very important. Do not eat, drink, or use any pain remedies, antacids, laxatives, or heating pads, which can cause an inflamed appendix to rupture.
Diagnosis of Appendicitis
Diagnosing appendicitis can be tricky. Symptoms of appendicitis are frequently vague or extremely similar to other ailments, including gallbladder problems, bladder or urinary tract infection, gastritis, intestinal infection, and ovary problems.
The pain from appendicitis may change over time, so establishing a diagnosis can sometimes be difficult. In addition, abdominal pain can arise from a number of health problems other than appendicitis. To help diagnose appendicitis, your doctor will likely take a history of your signs and symptoms and perform a thorough physical examination of your abdomen.
The following tests are usually used to make the diagnosis.
- Abdominal exam to detect inflammation.
- Urine test to rule out a urinary tract infection.
- Rectal exam.
- Blood test to see if your body is fighting infection.
- CT scans and/or ultrasound.
Surgery to remove the appendix, which is called an appendectomy, is the standard treatment for appendicitis.
If appendicitis is even suspected, doctors tend to err on the side of safety and quickly remove the appendix to avoid its rupture. If the appendix has formed an abscess, you may have two procedures: one to drain the abscess of pus and fluid, and a later one to remove the appendix.
More About Appendectomy
Antibiotics are given before an appendectomy to fight possible peritonitis. General anesthesia is usually given, and the appendix is removed through a 4-inch incision or by laparoscopy. If you have peritonitis, the abdomen is also irrigated and drained of pus.
Within 12 hours of surgery you may get up and move around. You can usually return to normal activities in two to three weeks. If surgery is done with a laparoscope (a thin telescope-like instrument for viewing inside the abdomen), the incision is smaller and recovery is faster.
After an appendectomy, call your doctor if you have:
- Uncontrolled vomiting
- Increased pain in your abdomen
- Dizziness/feelings of faintness
- Blood in your vomit or urine
- Increased pain and redness in your incision
- Pus in the wound
Prevention of Appendicitis
To date, there are no accurate methods to know how to prevent appendicitis. However, you can reduce the risk of dying from appendicitis by understanding the common symptoms of the condition, in order to obtain prompt treatment before it progresses to a more severe attack. There are some suggested preventive measures but there are no standard ways to prevent appendicitis from occurring.
- Eat foods rich in fibers. There is a high correlation between appendicitis and a low fiber diet. A high fiber diet can be gentle with the digestive system. A soluble fiber diet consists of fruits and vegetables whole grains, wheat bread, carrot, cucumber, zucchini, and celery constitute a non-soluble fiber diet. Maintaining a proper and well-balanced diet can also help prevent appendicitis.
- Be keen enough to recognize its warning symptoms. The most effective measure to prevent appendicitis from progressing to its more severe form would be the recognition of the common early signs of appendicitis. Hence, it is vital to recognize above mentioned symptoms as a way to prevent appendicitis to progress in its more serious condition by getting the right diagnosis and treatment.
- Take supplements that would keep the body resistance strong against infection. Beta Carotene, vitamin C, and zinc can enhance the body immunity while coenzyme A aids the body’s process for detoxification.
Care After Surgery
Expect a few weeks of recovery from an appendectomy. If your appendix burst, it may take longer to recover. During this recovery time, you can take steps to help your body heal, such as:
- Avoid strenuous activity at first. If your appendectomy was done laparoscopically, limit your activity for the first 3 to 5 days after surgery. If you had an open appendectomy, limit your activity for the first 10 to 14 days after surgery. Ask your doctor when you can go back to your normal activity.
- Support your abdomen when you cough. You may feel abdominal pain when you cough, laugh, or make other movements. Place a pillow over your abdomen and apply pressure before these movements to brace yourself.
- Call your doctor if your pain medications are not helping. Being in pain puts extra stress on your body and slows the healing process. If you’re still in pain despite your pain medications, call your doctor.
- Get up and move when you’re ready. Start slowly and increase your activity as you feel up to it. Start with short walks.
- Sleep when you feel tired. As your body heals, you may find you feel sleepier than usual. Take it easy and rest when you need to.
- Discuss returning to work or school with your doctor. You can return to work when you feel up to it. Children may be able to return to school less than a week after surgery, though strenuous activity, such as gym class or sports, should be limited for 2 to 4 weeks after surgery.
As we discussed earlier, appendicitis is a medical emergency that must be treated surgically. An alternative to surgery is antibiotic therapy. However, the factors leading to failure of antibiotic therapy are not known, so antibiotic therapy alone is usually reserved for patients too frail to undergo surgery.
There are no specific guidelines for preventing appendicitis because it comes on suddenly and the cause is usually unknown. To decrease the risk of rupture, get medical care right away for severe abdominal pain.