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Appendix Surgery (Appendectomy)

The appendix is a small worm-like pouch that protrudes from the colon or large intestine. It is in the lower right quadrant of the abdomen. While its function and use is largely unknown, the appendix is a significant cause of emergency visits to the hospital. When the appendix becomes inflamed it must almost always be removed to avoid the possibility of rupture. This is known as appendicitis, an urgent condition that must be addressed without delay as a rupture may cause infection within the abdomen, which in turn can be life-threatening. It is estimated that upwards of 5% of all Americans will have surgery for appendicitis.

Causes of Appendicitis

Most patients suffering from appendicitis are older than 10 and younger than 30 years of age. The most common known cause of appendicitis is partial or complete blockage due to contents of the colon becoming trapped in the small opening to the appendix. This blockage can be due to fecal matter, intestinal worms, trauma, tumors and more. The obstruction creates an environment for bacteria to multiply within the organ, ultimately causing the appendix to become inflamed or burst.

Whether the cause of one’s appendicitis is known or not, no matter the origins, it is important to treat the condition as soon as possible.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Appendicitis

The most typical and unique symptom of appendicitis is pain in or around the belly button area that migrates to the lower right quadrant of the abdomen. This can be mild at first, but usually becomes more severe quickly.

Other non-specific symptoms include:

  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Low grade fever
  • Inability to pass gas

A qualified medical doctor will be able to accurately assess symptoms. Imaging tests are not often needed unless your doctor needs to rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms.

Treatment Options

In a few cases, antibiotics and a modified diet may be prescribed to treat an inflamed appendix.

The most commonly performed curative procedure for an inflamed appendix is appendix removal surgery or appendectomy. This procedure is usually performed in a minimally invasive manner and, when uncomplicated, is very successful. Using only a few tiny incisions in the abdomen, the surgeon can quickly remove the inflamed appendix from the abdomen. This surgical method requires the shortest hospital stay and has the fewest complications.

If the appendix has ruptured, immediate surgery is almost always necessary as there is a high likelihood of complications that can lead to death if untreated. A ruptured appendix may also require open surgery to more effectively clean the abdominal cavity of bacteria that leaked out of the appendix.

In some cases, the appendix may rupture and an infection pocket known as a abscess may form. This will largely prevent the content of the appendix from leaking into the abdomen but still requires immediate treatment. First, the abscess will be drained and antibiotics will be prescribed during this time. Soon after, the appendix will likely be removed.

As with any medical emergency, do not delay in seeking emergency care if you suspect appendicitis. Go to your nearest emergency room or dial 9-1-1 immediately.

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