The Cleveland Clinic

Digestive Diseases: Appendicitis

What is appendicitis?

Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix, a 3 1/2-inch-long tube of tissue that extends from the large intestine. The appendix contains specialized tissue that can produce antibodies, but no one is absolutely certain what its function is. One thing we do know: We can live without it, without apparent consequences.

Appendicitis is a medical emergency that requires prompt surgery to remove the appendix. Left untreated, an inflamed appendix will eventually burst, 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 unless it is treated quickly with strong antibiotics.

Appendicitis

Sometimes a pus-filled abscess (infection that is walled off from the rest of the body) forms outside the inflamed appendix. Scar tissue then "walls off" the appendix from the rest of the abdomen, preventing infection from spreading. An abscessed appendix is a less urgent situation, but unfortunately, it can't be identified without surgery. For this reason, all cases of appendicitis are treated as emergencies requiring surgery.

In the U.S., 1 in 15 people will get appendicitis. Although it can strike at any age, appendicitis is rare under age 2 and most common between ages 15 and 30.

What Causes Appendicitis?

Appendicitis occurs when the appendix becomes blocked, often by stool, a foreign body, or cancer. Blockage may also occur from infection, since the appendix swells in response to any infection in the body.

What Are the Symptoms of Appendicitis?

The classic symptoms of appendicitis include:

Dull pain near the navel or the upper abdomen that becomes sharp as it moves to the lower right abdomen. This is usually the first sign.

Almost half the time, other symptoms appear, including:

Call Your Doctor If:

You have pain that matches these symptoms. Do not eat, drink, or use any pain remedies, antacids, laxatives, or heating pads, which can cause an inflamed appendix to rupture. If you have any of the mentioned symptoms seek medical attention immediately since timely diagnosis and treatment is very important. If you have any of the mentioned symptoms, seek medical attention immediately since timely diagnosis and treatment is very important.

How Is Appendicitis Diagnosed?

Diagnosing appendicitis can be tricky. Appendicitis symptoms are frequently vague or extremely similar to other ailments, including gallbladder problems, bladder or urinary tract infection, Crohn's disease, gastritis, intestinal infection, and ovary problems.

The following tests are usually used to make the diagnosis.

  • Abdominal exam to detect inflammation
  • Urine test to rule out a urinary tract infection
  • Rectal exam
  • Blood test to see if your body is fighting infection
  • CT scans and/or ultrasound



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