What is appendicitis?
Appendicitis is an infection of the appendix (a small, hollow, finger-like structure that branches off the large intestine). Early in life, the appendix functions as a part of the immune system, but in later years the appendix stops functioning and other organs such as the spleen and bone marrow continue to help fight infection. Although the appendix does not seem to serve any purpose, it can become irritated, inflamed, and diseased. If untreated, it can burst, causing infection to spread through the body. Severe illness, shock, and even death could occur.
What are the symptoms of appendicitis?
The following are the most common symptoms of appendicitis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
- nausea and vomiting
- loss of appetite
- fever and chills
- pain in the abdomen which:
- usually increases in severity as time passes.
- may start in the area around the belly button, and move over to the lower right-hand side of the abdomen, but may also start in the lower right-hand side of the abdomen.
- may be worse with moving, taking deep breaths, being touched, and coughing or sneezing.
- may spread throughout the abdomen if the appendix ruptures
- inability to pass gas
- abdominal swelling
It is important that persons with symptoms of appendicitis not take laxatives or enemas to relieve constipation, as these medications and procedures can cause the appendix to burst. In addition, persons should also avoid taking pain medication, as this can mask other symptoms the physician needs to be aware of.
The symptoms of appendicitis may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
What are the causes of appendicitis?
Appendicitis occurs when the interior of the appendix becomes obstructed from material that causes it to swell, such as mucus, stool, or parasites. The appendix can becomes irritated and inflamed. The blood supply to the appendix is choked off as the swelling and irritation increase. Adequate blood flow is necessary for a body part to remain healthy. When blood flow is reduced, the appendix starts to die. Rupture (or perforation) of the appendix occurs when holes develop in the walls of the appendix, allowing stool, mucus, and other substances to leak through and get inside the abdomen. A critical, life threatening infection inside the abdomen known as peritonitis can occur when the appendix perforates.
Appendicitis may occur after a viral infection in the digestive tract or when the tube connecting the large intestine and appendix is blocked or trapped by stool. Because of the risk of rupture, which may occur as soon as 48 to 72 hours after symptoms begin, appendicitis is considered an emergency and anyone with symptoms needs to see a physician immediately.
Appendicitis affects 7 percent of the US population and is the most common reason for a child to need emergency abdominal surgery. About one in 500 people has appendicitis each year.
Copyright 2007-11, MD Kiosk