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Appendicitis is one of the
causes of serious belly pain. It happens when the
appendix, a part of the large intestine, becomes
infected and inflamed. Experts don't know what the appendix does in the body,
but most of the time it doesn't cause problems.
Appendicitis is most common
in people ages 10 to 30, but it can happen at any age. With treatment, most people recover quickly and don't have any further problems. But without treatment, the appendix may burst and cause infection throughout the belly. This can be very serious.
It's often not clear why someone gets appendicitis. In some cases, a
small object (such as a hard piece of stool) blocks the opening to the
appendix. Then bacteria can grow in the appendix and cause an infection.
The main symptom of
appendicitis is belly pain. Many people feel the first pain near the belly
button. Then it moves to the lower right side of the belly. But the pain can be
in different parts of your belly or even on your side or back. The pain may get
worse if you move, walk, or cough.
You may also have a fever or feel sick to
In some cases, appendicitis doesn't cause any
symptoms except for belly pain. The pain in your belly may
be different than any pain you have had before. It may be severe. Or it may not
seem like a very strong pain, but you may have the feeling that something is
wrong. If you have
moderate belly pain that does not go away after 4
hours, call your doctor. If you have
severe belly pain, call your doctor right away.
Sometimes the only symptom is a general feeling of
not being well and a pain that is hard to describe. Trust your instincts. If you think you could have appendicitis, you need to see a doctor.
Appendicitis can be hard to diagnose. Your doctor will
do a physical exam and ask you questions about what symptoms you have, when they started, and what was
happening before the pain began. You also may have blood and urine tests to look for
signs of infection. In some cases, you may need a
CT scan or an
ultrasound of your belly.
Even though tests can't always show for certain that you have appendicitis, your symptoms may lead your doctor to
strongly suspect that you have it. In this case, your
doctor probably will recommend that you have surgery to remove your appendix. Most of the time, the doctor is right and the appendix is infected. During
surgery your doctor may find that your appendix is normal and that something else
caused your pain. Your doctor will go ahead and remove your appendix. You can
live just fine without it, and taking it out gets rid of any chance that it
could cause problems later.
The main treatment for
appendicitis is surgery to remove the appendix (appendectomy). There are different types of surgery for appendicitis.
Your surgeon may operate through a cut (incision) in your belly or use a
tool called a laparoscope to remove your appendix through a few small
If you have
appendicitis and aren't treated in time, your appendix can burst and cause serious problems. It's best to remove the appendix before it
appendix does burst, surgery may be more complicated. You also will need antibiotics and may need other treatment.
Most people leave the hospital 1
to 3 days after surgery. Some may even go home the same day. Depending on what type of surgery you have, it may take from 1 week to 1 month to get back to your normal
If your appendix ruptures, or if there is infection in your belly or other problems, you may be in the hospital longer. And it may take longer to get better.
After surgery, be sure to follow your doctor's advice about what to watch for, such as fever, increasing belly pain, or problems with your incision.
Learning about appendicitis:
Other Works Consulted
Ben-David K, Sarosi GA, Jr. (2010). Appendicitis. In M Feldman et al., eds., Sleisinger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease, 9th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2059–2071. Philadelphia: Saunders.
D'Souza N (2011). Appendicitis, search date February 2010. BMJ Clinical Evidence. Available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
Sauerland S, et al. (2010). Laparoscopic versus open surgery for suspected appendicitis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (10).
Current as of:
April 1, 2013
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
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