Answers FAQ

Appendicitis FAQs

Reviewed by John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

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Q:What is the appendix?

A:The appendix is a small, worm-like appendage attached to the colon.

More specifically, the appendix is a tube of tissue 3 to 4 inches in length that extends from the large intestine. Scientists are not sure what the appendix does as a function in the body, if anything.

Note: The anatomical name for the appendix, vermiform appendix, means "worm-like appendage."

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Q:Where is the appendix located in the body?

A:Normally, the appendix sits in the lower right area of the abdomen.

The appendix sits at the junction of the small intestine and large intestine (colon). It's a thin tube that resembles a finger-like pouch.

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Q:What is appendicitis?

A:Appendicitis refers to painful swelling or inflammation of the appendix.

Appendicitis occurs when bacteria invade and infect the wall of the appendix. Still, 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.

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Q:There is no clear cause of appendicitis. True or False?

A:True. There is no clear cause of appendicitis. Fecal material is thought to be one possible cause of obstruction of the appendix. Bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites can result in infection, leading to the swelling of the tissues of the appendix wall. The various infecting organisms include Yersinia species, adenovirus, cytomegalovirus, actinomycosis, Mycobacteria species, Histoplasma species, Schistosoma species, pinworms, and Strongyloides stercoralis.

Swelling of the tissue from inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn's disease also may cause appendicitis. Appendicitis is not a hereditary disease and is not transmittable from person to person.

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Q:What are symptoms of appendicitis?

A:Loss of appetite, abdominal tenderness and Abdominal pain, fever, vomiting. Symptoms of appendicitis may take 4 to 48 hours to develop. Early symptoms are often hard to separate from other conditions including gastroenteritis. Classic symptoms of appendicitis include: - Dull pain or tenderness near the navel or the upper or lower abdomen that becomes sharp as it moves to the lower right abdomen - Loss of appetite - Nausea and/or vomiting soon after abdominal pain begins - Abdominal swelling - Low-grade fever - Constipation or diarrhea with gas Almost half the time other symptoms appear, including: - Dull or sharp pain anywhere in the upper or lower abdomen, back, or rectum - Painful urination - Vomiting that precedes the abdominal pain

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Q:Appendicitis is a medical emergency. True or False?

A:True. Appendicitis is a serious medical emergency that requires prompt surgery to remove the appendix.

Surgery to remove the appendix is called an appendectomy. Prompt surgery is necessary because it decreases the likelihood that the appendix will burst (ruptured appendix). A burst or ruptured appendix increases the risk of serious complications.

The most common symptoms of appendicitis are abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, fever, and abdominal tenderness.

Note: Call your doctor about appendicitis if you have these symptoms. Ask your doctor before you eat, drink, or use any pain remedies, antacids, laxatives, or heating pads, which can cause an inflamed appendix to rupture.

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Q:Appendicitis can be fatal. True or False?

A:True. Appendicitis can be fatal.

Keep in mind that appendicitis is a medical emergency that requires prompt attention. If left untreated, an inflamed appendix can eventually burst (rupture or perforate) spilling infectious materials into the abdominal cavity. This can lead to peritonitis, a serious inflammation of the abdominal cavity's lining (the peritoneum) that can be fatal.

The risk of death associated with appendicitis is greater in the very young, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems, including people with diabetes.

The treatment for appendicitis is usually appendectomy (surgery to remove the appendix) and antibiotics.

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Q:Who is most likely to develop appendicitis?

A:Anyone can get appendicitis, but it is more common among people 10 to 30 years old.

If appendicitis is suspected in women of childbearing age, women may be asked to undergo a pelvic exam to rule out gynecological conditions, which sometimes cause abdominal pain similar to appendicitis.

Appendicitis is understood to be a common condition that affects about 6% of the U.S. population. That's about 250,000 cases of appendicitis reported annually.

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Q:What are the long-term consequences of an appendectomy?

A:There are usually no long-term consequences of appendectomy.

There are no major, long-term health problems resulting from removing the appendix. With adequate care, most people recover from appendicitis and do not need to make changes to diet, exercise, or lifestyle. Full recovery from surgery takes about 4 to 6 weeks. During this time, physical activity should be limited to allow tissues to heal. With any abdominal surgery, there are risks of complications. Discuss this with your surgeon.

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Q:Surgery is the only method used to treat appendicitis. True or False?

A:False. While surgery (appendectomy) is the gold standard of treatment for appendicitis, nonsurgical treatment may be used if surgery is not available or if surgery is not an option. Nonsurgical treatment may be sought if a person is not well enough to undergo surgery, or if the diagnosis is unclear. Nonsurgical options are only used if the patient is not well enough or not expected to survive the surgery itself. If you are otherwise healthy, surgery is the treatment for appendicitis. Some research suggests that appendicitis can resolve without surgery. Nonsurgical treatment includes antibiotics to treat infection and a liquid or soft diet until the infection subsides. A soft diet is low in fiber and easily breaks down in the gastrointestinal tract.

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Q:Appendicitis is usually an indication of cancer in the appendix. True or False?

A:False. Appendicitis is not usually an indication of cancer in the appendix.

While appendix cancer is rare, a malignancy of the appendix accounts for about 1 in 200 of all gastrointestinal cancers. Advances in treatment of this type of cancer have raised survival rates to about 80%.

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Q:What are risk factors for appendicitis?

A:There are no proven risk factors for appendicitis.

It has been suggested that potential risk factors may include a diet low in fiber and high in sugar, family history, and infection.

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