Appendicitis occurs when the appendix becomes inflamed. The appendix is located as a small tail where the large intestine starts. This is located in the right lower quadrant of the abdomen. No one is sure exactly what purpose the appendix is designed for. We are fully capable of living without it. Some medical experts have speculated that the appendix may have served a specific purpose hundreds of years ago when the human diet was not nearly as refined as it is now. As we have evolved, we no longer need it to digest the foods that we eat today.
Appendicitis is very common. It occurs in around 1 in 15 people today. It strikes more often in younger people. We see appendicitis most often in people between the ages of 8 and 30. It can strike children that are younger than 8. It is rare however to see appendicitis in children under the age of 3 years old.
When the appendix becomes inflamed it constitutes a medical emergency that must be treated immediately. If an appendix is left alone, it can rupture allowing the inflammation and possibly infectious agents to enter the abdominal cavity which can in turn cause peritonitis. Peritonitis can be fatal if not treated promptly with surgical intervention and very potent antibiotic therapy.
In some cases, an abscess can form around the appendix. In this situation, the appendix is surrounded by an abscess that is filled with pus. This abscess causes scar tissue to be formed which walls off the appendix and keeps the infection or inflammation from spreading to the rest of the body once the appendix ruptures. If this occurs the situation is not nearly as dire however there is no way to tell if this has taken place until surgery has been performed. Due to this, all cases of appendicitis should be treated as a medical emergency.
So what causes appendicitis? The appendix usually is blocked with some type of material causing inflammation to occur in the remaining portion of the appendix. The blockage can be a foreign object, stool, or in some rare cases blockage may be due to a tumor. An infection can cause the appendix to swell and block the passage as well. When this occurs the appendix swells and can rupture in a matter of hours or days.
The signs and symptoms of appendicitis include:
Some other signs and symptoms that may accompany the above symptoms
If these symptoms occur a physician or medical professional should be consulted immediately to rule out appendicitis. Anyone that suspects that they have appendicitis should not eat or drink anything until they have seen a physician and have been cleared to do so. There is testing that can be done to rule out this disorder. The physician will do an examination of the abdomen to check for inflammation and pain. The physician may order blood tests to see if the white blood count is elevated. If the counts are elevated this is indicative of an infectious process. A urine test may be performed to rule out a urinary tract infection. The doctor may do a rectal exam to examine the abdomen further. They may also order a CT scan or a pelvic or abdominal ultrasound to see if the appendix is swollen or inflamed.
If the physician feels that appendicitis is present the person will be admitted to the hospital for surgery to remove the appendix. The surgery is called an appendectomy. The surgery can be performed via a small incision in the abdomen or through a laparoscope. Antibiotics may be given before and after surgery to kill any infection that may be present in the abdomen. Recovery usually takes up to three weeks after surgery.
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