Appendicitis

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Appendicitis facts

  • The appendix is a small, worm-like appendage attached to the colon.
  • Appendicitis occurs when bacteria invade and infect the wall of the appendix.
  • The most common complications of appendicitis are rupture, abscess, and peritonitis.
  • The most common symptoms of appendicitis are abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, fever, and abdominal tenderness.
  • Appendicitis usually is suspected on the basis of a patient's history and physical examination; however, a white blood cell count, urinalysis, abdominal X-ray, barium enema, ultrasonography, CT scan, and laparoscopy also may be helpful in diagnosis.
  • Due to the varying size and location of the appendix and the proximity of other organs to the appendix, it may be difficult to differentiate appendicitis from other abdominal and pelvic diseases.
  • The treatment for appendicitis usually is antibiotics and appendectomy (surgery to remove the appendix).
  • Complications of appendectomy include wound infection and abscess.
  • Other conditions that can mimic appendicitis include Meckel's diverticulitis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), inflammatory diseases of the right upper abdomen (gallbladder disease, liver disease, or perforated duodenal ulcer), right-sided diverticulitis, and kidney diseases.

What is the appendix?

The appendix is a closed-ended, narrow tube up to several inches in length that attaches to the cecum (the first part of the colon) like a worm. (The anatomical name for the appendix, vermiform appendix, means worm-like appendage.) The open central core of the appendix drains into the cecum. The inner lining of the appendix produces a small amount of mucus that flows through the open central core of the appendix and into the cecum. The wall of the appendix contains lymphatic tissue that is part of the immune system for making antibodies. Like the rest of the colon, the wall of the appendix also contains a layer of muscle, but the layer of muscle is poorly developed.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/30/2014

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Appendicitis Symptoms

Abdominal pain is the main symptom of appendicitis. The pain starts out as diffuse, meaning it is difficult to localize the area of pain. Most people say the initial pain of appendicitis occurs around the middle portion of the abdomen. As the inflammation of the appendix progresses, the pain becomes localized to one area. Once the peritoneum (lining tissue of the abdomen) is inflamed, the pain of appendicitis is characteristically located at a point between the navel and the front of the right hip bone. Anatomically, this is referred to as McBurney's point.

Another frequent symptom of appendicitis is loss of appetite. Over time, this can worsen, resulting in nausea and vomiting. Other symptoms that can occur are swelling of the abdomen, the inability to pass gas, constipation or diarrhea with gas, and a mild to moderate fever.