That annoying sharp pain behind your navel may well be the result of overindulgence in spicy chips and dip, or perhaps even a pulled muscle.
However, if the pain moves to the lower right section of your stomach, kills your appetite, and is unrelenting, it might be appendicitis, which you ignore at your peril.
Television newswoman Norah O’Donnell learned that the hard way late last month. The “CBS This Morning” co-host posted on Instagram, saying that she was on the mend following an emergency appendectomy.
“I’m feeling much better and hope to return to NYC later … when I feel well enough to fly,” she wrote.
“I’m down an organ, but learned some valuable lessons this week,” she added.
O’Donnell vowed she will “never take a pain-free day for granted again.”
The journalist urged her fans to listen to their bodies and see a doctor if something seems amiss.
”Don’t wait 5 days like I did ignoring pain,” she wrote.
You can have an appendicitis attack at any time.
There is no dietary list of safe or forbidden foods.
A trained athlete is as vulnerable as a couch potato.
And it can happen more than once. If you recover from an appendicitis without surgery, you may suffer another attack later on.
Dr. David Renton, a gastrointestinal and general surgeon at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, knows all about the symptoms of an appendix running amok.
“If the pain doesn’t get better but continues to get worse,“ said Renton, “it’s time to call your friendly neighborhood surgeon or head for the emergency room.”
“Nothing you do causes appendicitis,” Renton told Healthline. “It just happens. There is nothing you can do to avoid appendicitis — no special diet, no food to avoid.”
What does help in an appendicitis attack is the speed in seeking treatment.
The earlier you seek treatment, the easier it is, according to Renton.
“The surgery usually takes 30 minutes,” he said.
With early intervention, Renton explained, the surgery is uncomplicated, requiring three small incisions.
Delay taking care of the problem and you’re likely to be hospitalized for a week.
Besides stomach pain, symptoms can also include poor appetite, nausea, fever, and vomiting.
The appendix, a small vestigial organ, is a pouch attached to your large intestine, at the junction of the small intestine.
Some scientists, including Charles Darwin, believe the appendix once helped humans with digestion when we primarily plant eaters, but the organ no longer aids in our digestive process.
And none of the people who have their appendix removed seem to miss it.
The appendix falls under other vestigial organs that aren’t really needed such as the tailbone and male nipples.
Although surgery is standard treatment, antibiotics are getting a serious look.
Dr. Oscar Guillamondegui, a surgeon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee, told CBS News that “the results aren’t in yet, [but] it may show that antibiotics are just as effective at treating appendicitis.”
In the five years after treatment with antibiotics, almost two-thirds of the 530 patients studied hadn’t had another attack.
“The major risk of not having surgery from appendicitis is that it would continue to inflame and then rupture or burst and that can lead to a major abscess, which can lead to severe sepsis, a protracted stay in the hospital, and even death,” said Guillamondegui.
Diagnosing appendicitis can be difficult because the symptoms can be similar to other health issues.
Doctors usually have to rule out kidney stones, gallbladder problems, and urinary tract infections.
While anyone can develop appendicitis, it most often occurs in people between the ages of 10 and 30, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Unlike in humans, among plant-eating animals, the appendix remains part of the digestive system.
However, a study in 2009 found that the human appendix might be useful, serving as an important storehouse for beneficial bacteria.