To understand what appendicitis is, it’s important to know what the appendix is, which is a thin tube that resides in the lower-right part of the belly area, joined to the large intestine. In childhood, the appendix plays an important role. Along with the immune system, it works to fight disease and infections, however, as a person ages the appendix becomes less and less effective, and ends its role, while other parts of the body pick-up the slack. This can however make the appendix more prone to infection and appendicitis. An infected appendix gets sore and swollen, and when blood supply to the appendix stops, the soreness and swelling get worse. With inadequate blood flow the appendix begins to die, causing it to burst, leading to holes or tears in the walls. These tears can allow mucus, stool, and infectious bacteria to leak and enter the belly, which can lead to a serious infection called peritonitis.
With adults, as the appendix no longer fights infection, it can itself become infected, and if not treated can burst, which generally can happen as fast as 48 to 72 hours after showing symptoms. It is for this reason appendicitis is an emergency and can be life-threatening, and requires immediate medical attention. The primary cause of appendicitis is when the inside of the appendix becomes blocked, caused by a variety of infections, such as bacteria, parasites, or a virus in the digestive tract. It can also happen if the tube joining the appendix to the large intestine becomes blocked with stool. A growth on the appendix wall can also develop into a tumor.
Anyone can develop appendicitis, though most often it occurs in people between 10 and 30. The most effective, and common treatment is surgical removal of the appendix.
Some of the signs and symptoms of appendicitis include:
Depending on your age, and the position of your appendix, the site of the pain may be different. Having a family history of appendicitis may increase your risk, especially for men. Cystic fibrosis in children has also been linked to a higher risk of appendicitis.
Pain medications are not recommended during symptoms of appendicitis as they may hide other symptoms your healthcare provider needs to know about. Your doctor will ask you about your health history, your family health history, and perform a physical exam. In addition, the doctor may also order a blood test to check for a high white blood cell count, as well as a urine test to check for any urinary tract infection. A doctor may also suggest imaging tests, like an abdominal ultrasound, CT scan or MRI. Because appendicitis is a medical emergency, and likely to burst and cause serious life-threatening infection, your healthcare provider will almost always advise surgery to remove the appendix. If your appendix has not burst, recovery from an appendectomy generally takes only a few days. If a burst did occur your recovery time will be longer, and antibiotic medication will be prescribed.
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