Connected to the colon and extending from the large intestine, the appendix is a finger-shaped, 3 1/2-inch-long pouch on the right side of the abdomen. There is no definitive answer on its bodily function, but science has the verdict – you can live without it too, without any apparent consequence.
What causes appendicitis?
As cryptic as the existence of the appendix is the cause for appendicitis. The most common cause that physicians note is obstruction in the appendix. This obstruction can either be partial or complete, and in the latter case warrants immediate medical attention and surgery.
Causes for obstruction of appendix:
- Stool/fecal matter
- Enlarged lymphoid follicles
These obstructions in the appendix can cause bacteria to multiply in the organ, eventually leading to pus formation and causing pressure that can be painful. An infected appendix can compress local blood vessels. There are several other things that can go wrong:
- Lack of blood flow to the appendix can cause gangrene.
- A ruptured appendix can fill the abdomen with fecal matter .
- A ruptured appendix can also cause peritonitis: a condition that causes inflammation of the tissue that lines the abdominal wall.
- A rupture can inflame other organs too like the bladder, cecum, and sigmoid colon.
- The infected appendix can leak instead of rupturing, which can cause an abscess to form. Although in this case the infection is restricted to a smaller area, an abscess is still dangerous.
Signs and symptoms of appendicitis
Common symptoms of appendicitis:
- Dull pain near navel or upper abdomen that becomes sharp as it moves to the lower right abdomen
- Nausea/vomiting before or after onset of abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling
- Loss of appetite
- Inability to pass gas
Lesser known symptoms to look out for:
- Pain in the upper or lower abdomen, back, or rectum
- Painful urination or difficulty in passing urine
- Constipation or diarrhea with gas
- Severe cramps
Appendicitis diagnosis and treatment
For appendicitis diagnosis, a physician will begin with a physical exam, looking for tenderness in the lower right side of the abdomen. Aside from the physical exam, there aren’t any specific tests to diagnose appendicitis. Your doctor may order a CBC (complete blood count) test. The test can help determine the presence of a bacterial infection, which is often correlated with appendicitis. Your physician will also order other tests to rule out appendicitis and other similar conditions, and proceed with the treatment plan according to the spread of infection or the rupture. This often entails antibiotics and surgery.
What is an appendectomy?
The surgical removal of the appendix, in case of a block or infection, is called an appendectomy. The procedure is commonly performed to treat appendicitis. Depending on the extent of the infection, doctors use a combination of antibiotics to fight the infection, followed by surgery to remove the appendix that may put you at dire risk in the future if not treated immediately at the onset of symptoms.