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.
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.
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.
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.
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and/or vomiting soon after abdominal pain begins
- Abdominal swelling
- Fever of 99° F to 102° F
- Inability to pass 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
- Severe cramps
- Constipation or diarrhea with gas
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.
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
Surgery to remove the appendix, which is called an appendectomy, is the standard treatment for appendicitis.
If appendicitis is even suspected, doctors tend to err on the side of safety and quickly remove the appendix to avoid its rupture. If the appendix has formed an abscess, you may have two procedures: one to drain the abscess of pus and fluid, and a later one to remove the appendix.
Antibiotics are given before an appendectomy to fight possible peritonitis. General anesthesia is usually given, and the appendix is removed through a 4-inch incision or by laparoscopy. If you have peritonitis, the abdomen is also irrigated and drained of pus.
Within 12 hours of surgery you may get up and move around. You can usually return to normal activities in 2 to 3 weeks. If surgery is done with a laparoscope (a thin telescope-like instrument for viewing inside the abdomen), the incision is smaller and recovery is faster.
After an appendectomy, call your doctor if you have:
- Uncontrolled vomiting.
- Increased pain in your abdomen.
- dizziness/feelings of faintness.
- Blood in your vomit or urine.
- Increased pain and redness in your incision.
- Pus in the wound.
There is no way to prevent appendicitis. However, appendicitis is less common in people who eat foods high in fiber, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
Reviewed by The Cleveland Clinic Department of Gastroenterology.
Edited by Louise Chang, MD, WebMD, November 2005.
WebMD Medical Reference
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Top Appendicitis Related Articles
What Causes Abdominal Pain?Abdominal pain can have many causes that range from mild to severe. Some of these causes include bloating, gas, colitis, endometriosis, food poisoning, GERD, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), ovarian cysts, abdominal adhesions, diverticulitis, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, gallbladder disease, liver disease, and cancers. Signs and symptoms of the more serious causes include dehydration, bloody or black tarry stools, severe abdominal pain, pain with no urination or painful urination. Treatment for abdominal pain depends upon the cause.
Abdominal Pain PicturesAbdominal pain is a symptom of many possible conditions including appendicitis, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, and other conditions. It may accompany constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, and other symptoms. Find out the potential causes of pain in the abdomen and learn when you should see a doctor.
AppendectomyAppendectomy is the removal by surgery of the appendix, the small worm-like appendage of the colon (the large bowel). An appendectomy is performed because of probable appendicitis, inflammation of the wall of the appendix generally associated with infection.
How Long Does It Take to Recover from An Appendectomy?Appendectomy is the surgical removal of the appendix. It is most often performed as an emergency surgery for appendicitis. With a laparoscopic surgery, a patient is often able to resume normal activities in one to three weeks. An open surgery may require about two to four weeks for recovery. With a ruptured appendix, it may take up to six weeks or more.
Appendicitis SlideshowWhat causes appendicitis? What causes a burst or ruptured appendix? Learn step-by-step what happens during laparoscopic appendectomy. Find appendectomy recovery time, early appendicitis warning signs, and what the appendix's functions are. Know the appendicitis symptoms like pain in the abdomen.
Appendicitis QuizHow dangerous is appendicitis? Take this quiz to answer questions, get quick facts, and learn the causes of appendicitis as well as symptoms, risks, and treatments for this common condition.
CT Scan (Computerized Tomography)A CT scan is an X-ray procedure that combines many X-ray images with the aid of a computer to generate cross-sectional and three-dimensional images of internal organs and structures of the body. A CT scan is a low-risk procedure. Contrast material may be injected into a vein or the spinal fluid to enhance the scan.
Cramps but No PeriodHaving cramps but no period can occur because of conditions other than your monthly menstrual cycle. They may feel like period cramps of the lower abdomen when you are not due for your period and produce no blood. These 12 diseases and conditions are examples of what can cause abdominal cramping when not on period.
Intestines PictureThe intestines are a long, continuous tube running from the stomach to the anus. See a picture of the Intestines and learn more about the health topic.
Night sweats are severe hot flashes that occur at night and result in a drenching sweat. The causes of night sweats in most people are not serious, like menopause in women, sleep apnea, medications, alcohol withdrawal, and thyroid problems. However, more serious diseases like cancer and HIV also can cause night sweats. Your doctor will treat your night sweats depending upon the cause.
You may experience other signs and symptoms that are associated with night sweats, which depend upon the cause, but may include, shaking, and chills with a fever caused by an infection like the flu or pneumonia; unexplained weight loss due to lymphoma; women in perimenopause or menopause may also have vaginal dryness, mood swings, and hot flashes during the day; and low blood sugar in people with diabetes.
Other causes of night sweats include medications like NSAIDs (aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), antidepressants, sildenafil (Viagra), and abuse of prescription or illegal drugs and drug withdrawal; hormone disorders like pheochromocytoma and carcinoid syndrome; idiopathic hyperhidrosis; infections like endocarditis, AIDs, and abscesses; alcoholism and alcohol withdrawal; drug abuse, addiction, and withdrawal; and stroke.
A doctor or other health care professional can treat your night sweats after the cause has been diagnosed.
Pelvic Pain SlideshowThere are many causes of pelvic pain in women including cysts, PMS, appendicitis, and bladder infections. Pelvic pain has uncomfortable symptoms, but luckily there are treatments for pelvic pain.
What Is Recovery Time for Laparoscopic Appendectomy?An appendectomy is the surgical removal of vermiform appendix, attached to the the colon (cecum). A laparoscopic appendectomy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure to remove the appendix. The patient will generally be able to return normal activities within one to three weeks.
Sedimentation RateSedimentation rate is a common blood test that is used to detect and monitor inflammation in the body. It is performed by measuring the rate at which red blood cells (RBCs) settle in a test tube. The sedimentation rate is simply how far the top of the RBC layer has fallen in one hour, increasing with more inflammation.
Shock (Medical)Medical shock is a life-threatening medical condition. There are several types of medical shock, including:
- septic shock,
- anaphylactic shock,
- cardiogenic shock,
- hypovolemic shock, and
- neurogenic shock.
- heart attack,
- heart failure,
- heavy bleeding (internal and external),
- spinal cord injury,
- severe burns,
- chronic vomiting or
Why Am I So Gassy and Bloated?Bloating is a feeling that your abdomen is distended or larger than normal, but it does not necessarily mean that it is. Gas (flatulence) also can be a problem if you are bloated. Common, less serious causes of bloating are eating too fast, too much, or too many fatty foods; swallowing air; pregnancy; and menstruation. Cancer and IBD (ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease) are examples the more serious causes of bloating. Examples of foods and drinks that cause bloating are high fiber foods if you don't eat them regularly; eventually the bloating and gassiness will resolve if you eat them on a regular basis; fatty greasy foods, dairy products (for example, cheese, ice cream, milk, and yogurt); foods high in salt (for example, processed, frozen, and canned foods), and artificial sweeteners.
Some doctors and other health care professionals recommend natural remedies like chamomile or peppermint tea, or pumpkin to relieve bloating. Examples of OTC medicine (medicine available without a prescription) and other products that may relieve bloating and gassiness are, Gas-X, Beano, Pepto Bismol, Metamucil, probiotics, and Ex-Lax for constipation associated with bloating. If you have persistent or severe gas and bloating, and if you have any of these symptoms see a doctor or other healthcare professional, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain, bloody diarrhea, fever, or if you think you are or may be pregnant.