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- Appendicitis definition and facts
- What is the appendix?
- What is appendicitis and what causes appendicitis?
- What are the signs and symptoms of appendicitis?
- Is there a test to diagnose appendicitis?
- Imaging studies to diagnosis appendicitis
- Which specialties of doctors treat appendicitis?
- Why can it be difficult to diagnose appendicitis?
- What is stump appendicitis?
- What are the complications of appendicitis?
- What other conditions can mimic appendicitis?
- What is the treatment for appendicitis?
- How is an appendectomy done?
- What are the complications of appendectomy?
- Are there long-term consequences of appendectomy?
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Quick GuideAppendix Pain? Appendicitis, Surgery, and More
What is appendicitis and what causes appendicitis?
Appendicitis means inflammation of the appendix. It is thought that appendicitis begins when the opening from the appendix into the cecum becomes blocked. The blockage may be due to a build-up of thick mucus within the appendix or to stool that enters the appendix from the cecum. The mucus or stool hardens, becomes rock-like, and blocks the opening. This rock is called a fecalith (literally, a rock of stool). At other times, it might be that the lymphatic tissue in the appendix swells and blocks the opening. After the blockage occurs, bacteria which normally are found within the appendix begin to multiply and invade (infect) the wall of the appendix. The body responds to the invasion by mounting an attack on the bacteria, an attack called inflammation. If the symptoms of appendicitis are not recognized and the inflammation progresses, the appendix can rupture, followed by spread of bacteria outside of the appendix. The cause of such a rupture is unclear, but it may relate to changes that occur in the lymphatic tissue that lines the wall of the appendix, for example, inflammation that causes swelling and buildup of pressure within the appendix that causes it to rupture.
After rupture, infection can spread throughout the abdomen; however, it usually is confined to a small area surrounding the appendix (forming a peri-appendiceal abscess).
Sometimes, the body is successful in containing ("healing") the appendicitis without surgical treatment if the infection and accompanying inflammation cause the appendix to rupture. The inflammation, pain, and symptoms also may disappear when antibiotics are used. This is particularly true in elderly patients. Patients then may come to the doctor long after the episode of appendicitis with a lump or a mass in the right lower abdomen that is due to the scarring that occurs during healing. This lump might raise the suspicion of cancer.