Appendicitis is a condition that results when your appendix, a small worm-like structure in the lower-right side of your abdomen, becomes inflamed. You may feel painful appendicitis symptoms if becomes infected, so it’s important to know the signs of an appendix infection to avoid this serious condition.
Although your appendix—which hangs down from the large intestine—doesn't serve any specific purpose in your body, you may require surgery to remove the organ if you are diagnosed with appendicitis.
Read on to learn more about symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of the condition, find out who typically gets appendicitis, and discover whether or not it can be prevented.
What is appendicitis?
Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix that can cause severe abdominal pain. When its blood supply becomes blocked, bacteria may grow and cause an infection. This can lead to appendicitis.
Who is at risk for appendicitis? Can you get appendicitis at any age?
Appendicitis can occur at any time, but it is most common in young people. Appendicitis typically affects teens and people between the ages of 20 and 30, but it can occur at any age.
Additional risk factors for appendicitis include:
- Family history of appendicitis
- Personal history of abdominal surgery or trauma
How can you prevent appendicitis?
There are no known ways to prevent appendicitis. Early diagnosis and treatment are important in order to avoid complications.
Although there is no guaranteed way to prevent appendicitis, eating a healthy diet, avoiding smoking and drinking alcohol, and maintaining a healthy weight may help reduce your risk.
The most common symptom of appendicitis is abdominal pain, typically starting around the navel, that moves to the lower-right side of your abdomen.
Other appendicitis symptoms may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Low fever (less than 102 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Abdominal bloating
- Inability to pass gas
What should you do if you think you have appendicitis?
If you have any of the appendicitis symptoms listed above, make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible. If you have severe abdominal pain, go to the nearest emergency room for immediate care.
How do doctors test for appendicitis?
To diagnose appendicitis, your doctor will ask about your medical history and do a physical exam. They will feel your abdomen for tenderness and check for a fever. You may also have blood tests (to detect signs of infection) and urinalysis (to rule out a urinary tract infection).
Your doctor may also order one or more of the following imaging tests to confirm an appendicitis diagnosis:
- CT scans
What happens if appendicitis is left untreated?
If appendicitis is not treated, your appendix can rupture. This happens when the appendix bursts and spills infection-causing bacteria into your abdomen. This can lead to a life-threatening infection called peritonitis.
If not treated promptly, appendicitis can cause your appendix to rupture or burst. When this happens, your appendix spills infection-causing bacteria into your abdomen, which can cause life-threatening complications.
In most cases, if you are diagnosed with appendicitis, you will need surgery to remove your appendix.
Can antibiotics stop appendicitis?
No, antibiotics can’t stop appendicitis. Recent research has shown that it can be used to treat people with acute cases, but it’s not a universally acceptable solution and certainly not for high-risk patients and people with complicated cases of appendicitis.
Can appendicitis be cured without surgery?
No. If you have appendicitis, you will need surgery to remove your appendix. This is called an appendectomy.
If your doctor suspects you have appendicitis, you will likely be referred to a surgeon. If your doctor's diagnosis is uncertain, you may be observed in the hospital for 12 to 24 hours.
If you have appendicitis that is left untreated, it can lead to a ruptured appendix. This can cause life-threatening infections and abscesses to form in your abdomen.
Surgery for appendicitis
Patients usually need to have an appendectomy (surgery to remove their appendix) after being diagnosed with appendicitis.
What are potential complications after having an appendectomy?
The most common complication of appendectomy is postoperative infection. Other complications that can occur include:
- Wound infections
- Injury to nearby organs
- Adhesions (scar tissue that forms between tissues and organs)
How long does appendix surgery take?
Appendix surgery usually takes about 30 minutes. You will likely stay in the hospital for one to three days after surgery, and you may have some pain and swelling near the incision.
How painful is appendix surgery?
Most people say that the pain after surgery is much less than the pain before surgery.
You will likely feel better after a few days, but you might experience some pain in your belly for a week or two after surgery as you heal. Your surgeon may give you pain medicine to help with this discomfort.
What is the difference between open and laparoscopic appendectomy?
In an open appendectomy, the surgeon makes a single large incision in the lower right side of your abdomen to remove your appendix.
In a laparoscopic appendectomy (also called minimally invasive surgery), a small camera is inserted into the abdomen through a small incision. Your surgeon then uses special instruments to remove the appendix.
The benefits of laparoscopic appendectomy include less pain, less scarring, and a shorter hospital stay. Laparoscopic appendectomy may also be associated with a lower risk of complications, such as infection, compared to open appendectomy.
As with any major surgery, there are risks associated with laparoscopic appendectomy. These risks include bleeding, infection, and damage to nearby organs. However, these risks are typically low.
Additional FAQs about appendicitis symptoms and appendectomies
Get answers to common questions about diagnosing and treating appendicitis.
What foods can cause appendicitis?
There is no specific food that has been linked to appendicitis. However, eating a diet that is high in fiber may help reduce your risk of developing appendicitis.
Does eating make appendicitis worse?
There is no evidence that eating makes appendicitis worse. In fact, it is important to eat and drink clear fluids if you have appendicitis to prevent dehydration.
Can your appendix grow back?
No. Once your appendix has been removed, it cannot grow back.
What is the difference between appendicitis and a stomach virus?
The main difference between appendicitis and a stomach virus is that appendicitis is a medical emergency that requires treatment with antibiotics or surgery, while a stomach virus will usually go away on its own.
Stomach viruses can cause some of the same symptoms as appendicitis, such as nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. However, these symptoms are usually less severe with a stomach virus and improve after a few days.
It is important to see a doctor if you think you may have appendicitis, as it can be a life-threatening condition.
Can you live without an appendix?
Yes, an appendix is not essential for survival, and you can live without one.
Get immediate care for appendicitis symptoms
Serious stomach pain can happen at any time. At Logansport Memorial Hospital, our team of experienced doctors and surgeons offers high-quality care for a wide range of abdomen conditions, including appendicitis.
You don’t have to wait to get the care you need. Walk-ins are welcome at Express Medical Center:
3400 East Market Street
at Cass Plaza
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