Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix, a pouch-shaped organ connected to the large intestine. If you don’t get treatment for it, the appendix can rupture, which can be life-threatening. When there’s an obstruction in the appendix, bacteria can multiply quickly inside the organ. This causes the appendix to become irritated and swollen, ultimately leading to appendicitis. Always seek immediate medical attention if you think you have appendicitis.
The appendix is in the lower right side of your abdomen. Although the appendix is a part of your gastrointestinal tract, it’s a vestigial organ. This means that it provides no vital function and that you may live a normal, healthy life without it. The purpose of the appendix is unknown, but some believe it contains tissue responsible for helping your immune system process infections in your body.
If you don’t get treatment for an inflamed appendix quickly, it can rupture and release dangerous bacteria into your abdomen. The resulting infection is known as peritonitis, which is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.
Having a ruptured appendix is a life-threatening situation. Rupture rarely happens within the first 24 hours of symptoms, but the risk of rupture rises dramatically after 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. It’s very important to recognise the early symptoms of appendicitis so that you can seek medical treatment immediately.
Not all people will have the same symptoms, but it’s crucial that you see a doctor as quickly as possible. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the appendix can rupture as quickly as 48 to 72 hours after the onset of symptoms.
Go to the hospital immediately if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- A gradual onset of dull, cramping, or aching pain throughout the abdomen. As the appendix becomes more swollen and inflamed, it will irritate the lining of the abdominal wall, known as the peritoneum. This causes localised, sharp pain in the right lower part of the abdomen. The pain tends to be more constant and severe than the dull, aching pain that occurs when symptoms start. However, some people may have an appendix that lies behind the colon and appendicitis in this region can cause lower back pain or pelvic pain
- Mild fever
Appendicitis usually causes a fever between 37.2°C and 38°C. You may also have the chills. If your appendix bursts, the resulting infection could cause your fever to rise. A fever greater than 38.3°C and an elevation in heart rate may indicate that the appendix has ruptured.
Appendicitis can cause nausea and vomiting. You may lose your appetite and feel like you can’t eat. You may also become constipated or develop severe diarrhea. If you’re having trouble passing gas, this may be an indication of a partial or total obstruction of your bowel. This may be related to underlying appendicitis.
Symptoms of appendicitis in children
Always take your child to the hospital if you suspect they have appendicitis.
Sometimes children aren’t able to describe how they’re feeling. They also may have a difficult time pinpointing the pain, and they may say that the pain is in their entire abdomen. This can make it difficult to determine that appendicitis is the cause. Parents can easily mistake appendicitis for a stomach bug or urinary tract infection (UTI).
However, it’s always better to be cautious when it comes to appendicitis. A ruptured appendix can be dangerous for anyone, but the risk of death is highest in infants and toddlers.
Children ages 2 and younger often show the following symptoms of appendicitis:
- Abdominal bloating or swelling
- A tender abdomen
Older children and teenagers are more likely to experience:
- Pain in the lower right side of the abdomen
Symptoms of appendicitis during pregnancy
Many appendicitis symptoms can mimic some of the discomforts of pregnancy. These include stomach cramping, nausea, and vomiting. However, pregnant women may not always have the classic symptoms of appendicitis, especially late in pregnancy. The appendix is pushed higher during pregnancy by the growing uterus, so the pain may occur in your upper abdomen instead of the lower right side of your abdomen. Pregnant women with appendicitis are also more likely to experience heartburn, gas, or alternating episodes of constipation and diarrhoea. Appendicitis can happen at any time, but it most often occurs between ages 10 and 30. It’s more common in men than in women.
How is appendicitis treated?
When you meet with the doctor, they’ll perform a physical exam and ask you questions about your symptoms. They’ll also order certain tests to help them determine if you have appendicitis. These may include:
- Blood tests to look for signs of an infection
- Urine tests to check for signs of a UTI or a kidney stone
- An abdominal ultrasound or CT scan to determine whether the appendix is inflamed
If your doctor diagnoses you with appendicitis, they’ll then determine whether or not you need immediate surgery. You’ll likely receive antibiotics before surgery. The medications will help prevent an infection from developing after surgery. Your surgeon will then perform surgery to remove your appendix. This is called an appendectomy.
During an open appendectomy, your surgeon makes one incision in the lower right side of your abdomen. They remove your appendix and close the wound with stitches. This procedure allows your doctor to clean the abdominal cavity if your appendix has burst or an abscess has formed.
During a laparoscopic appendectomy, your surgeon will make a few small incisions in your abdomen. They’ll then insert a laparoscope into the incisions. A laparoscope is a long, thin tube with a light and camera at the front. The camera will display the images on a screen, allowing them to see inside your abdomen and guide the instruments. When they find your appendix, they’ll tie it off with stitches and remove it. They’ll then clean, close, and dress the small incisions.
After the surgery, your doctor may want you to stay in the hospital until your pain is under control and you’re able to consume liquids. If you develope an abscess or if a complication occurs, your doctor may want you to stay on antibiotics for another day or two. It’s important to remember that while it’s possible for problems to arise, most people make a full recovery without complication.