• Medical Author:
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Quick GuideAppendix Pain? Appendicitis, Surgery, and More

Appendix 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.

What does the appendix look like?

Appendicitis Illustration -Inflammation of the Appendix
Appendicitis Illustration -Inflammation of the Appendix
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/25/2016

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Newsletters

Get the latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors