Appendicitis occurs when the appendix becomes inflamed. Your appendix is a small, finger-like sac that extends from the bottom of your large intestine. The appendix plays a role in modulating the immune system, though we do know we can live without it with no harmful effects. Your appendix can become inflamed and filled with pus due to an obstruction—such as hard feces, food, or a tumor—or in response to an infection in the digestive tract.
A person with appendicitis will initially experience a pain in the navel area. The pain might worsen in the following instances:
- as the pain travels to the lower right side of the abdomen
- when coughing, sneezing, or moving suddenly
- when the affected area is touched
Other symptoms include:
- abdominal swelling
- low-grade fever
- loss of appetite
- nausea and vomiting
- diarrhea or constipation
- inability to pass gas
- painful urination
Diagnosis and Tests
If appendicitis is suspected, your doctor will perform a physical exam of your abdomen and may order a blood test to detect infection or a urinalysis to rule out a urinary tract infection or kidney stones. Your doctor may also order a CT scan, abdominal X-Ray, or ultrasound to positively rule out other causes or to confirm the diagnosis of appendicitis. Once confirmed, the appendix needs to be immediately surgically removed. This is called an appendectomy.
If appendicitis is not treated in time, your appendix can burst and leak the contents of your intestines into the rest of your abdominal cavity. This will spread infection, a condition called peritonitis. In the event of peritonitis, your doctor will perform an open appendectomy, which is a cleaning of the entire abdominal cavity. If an abscess has formed around the burst appendix, your doctor will drain it, treat the infection with antibiotics, and eventually perform an appendectomy.
Appendicitis is most common in children over the age of 2 and people between the ages of 15 and 30. While there is nothing you can do to prevent appendicitis, it is less common in people with a diet that is high in fiber, fresh fruits, and vegetables.