Appendectomy

Written by Brian Krans | Published on August 15, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

Overview

Appendectomy is the surgical removal of the appendix, typically performed to cure appendicitis. It is one of the most common emergency surgical procedures.

The appendix is a small, pouch-like cavity attached to your large intestine in the lower right part of your abdomen.

The exact purpose of the appendix has been a subject of speculation for centuries. It is now believed to be a storage area for the normal flora (bacteria). It aids in recovery following episodes of diarrhea, inflammation, and infections of the small and large intestines.

What is Appendicitis?

Infection occurs when the opening of the appendix becomes clogged. This causes your appendix to become swollen and intensely painful. This is known as appendicitis.

The easiest and quickest way to treat appendicitis is to remove the appendix. Your appendix could burst if appendicitis is not treated immediately and effectively. This can cause the bacteria to spread into your abdomen and cause a serious infection (peritonitis).

Symptoms of appendicitis include:

  • abdominal pain that starts suddenly near the belly button on the right-hand side
  • abdominal swelling
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • vomiting

The Risks of an Appendectomy

All surgeries carry the risk of rare complications, including excessive bleeding and infection. However, the risks associated with an appendectomy are far lower than the risk of leaving an infected appendix untreated. Left untreated, the appendix can burst and spread infection throughout your abdomen. This can be fatal.

How to Prepare for an Appendectomy

First, your doctor will ask you about your medical history and perform a physical examination. During the exam, the doctor will gently push against your abdomen to pinpoint the source of your abdominal pain.

Your doctor may order blood tests and imaging tests if appendicitis is caught early. These could include CT scans or an abdominal X-ray. However, your doctor may skip these tests if he or she believes an emergency appendectomy is necessary.

Before surgery, you’ll be hooked up to an IV so you can receive fluids and medication. You’ll likely be put under general anesthesia so that you will be unconscious during surgery.

How an Appendectomy Is Performed

There are two types of appendectomy: open and laparoscopic. The kind of operation your doctor chooses depends on several factors, including the extent of the infection and your medical history.

Open Appendectomy

During an open appendectomy, a surgeon makes one incision into the lower right portion of your abdomen. Your appendix is removed and the wound is closed.

Reasons your doctor may choose an open appendectomy include:

  • bleeding problems during the operation
  • extensive infection
  • a history of prior abdominal surgery
  • obesity
  • a perforated appendix

Laparoscopic Appendectomy

During a laparoscopic appendectomy, the surgeon accesses the appendix through several small incisions in your abdomen. The surgeon uses narrow, tube-like instruments to operate on the infected organ. A camera in one of the tubes allows the surgeon to see inside your abdomen to guide the instruments.

After the appendix is removed, the small incisions are cleaned, closed, and dressed. The risk of infection from laparoscopic appendectomy is lower than from open appendectomy because the incision wounds are smaller.

After an Appendectomy

An appendectomy is a fairly simple and routine procedure.

Full recovery from an appendectomy takes about four to six weeks. During this time, your doctor will probably recommend that you limit your physical activity to allow your body to heal.

You may also be prescribed antibiotics after the surgery to lower your risk of infection.

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