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Appendicitis is a condition caused by the inflammation of the appendix.
The appendix is a small pouch that is connected to the large intestine and can range in size from 5 cm to 10 cm (2 to 4 inches) long. There have been many different reasons suggested as to what the appendix is for. However, our body does not use it and removal is not harmful.
When a person develops appendicitis, this is due to the appendix becoming blocked, or infected. It is not known why this may occur in some people and not others, as many individuals never experience issues with their appendix during their lifetime.
In many cases, Appendicitis causes abdominal pain, and it can become severe and, in some individuals, life-threatening.
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There are several signs and symptoms that indicate whether someone is suffering from appendicitis. Initially, these can sometimes be confused with other ailments, such as stomach upset, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Some people even have a loss of appetite.
The first symptoms of appendicitis that an individual may experience are pains in the middle of their abdomen. This may come and go and, initially, could easily be mistaken for something else.
As the symptoms progress, so to does the pain, which a person may find travels to their lower right hand side. This is where the appendix is usually situated, although the appendix can be in a slightly different position. At this point, the pain is typically more severe and does not go away. Some people will experience nausea, constipation, or diarrhoea.
It’s not clear what actually causes appendicitis. This means that there is no way to know how to prevent it, or if appendicitis can be prevented. The NHS highlighted that there are 50,000 people admitted to hospitals in England for appendicitis each year. It can happen at any point in your life, but the most common group to experience it is people between the ages of 10 and 20 years old. It has also been highlighted that men, boys and smokers (including passive smokers) are more likely to get appendicitis.
If the above symptoms are experienced, and there is no ease in the pain, it is recommended you contact your doctor right away. They may arrange for you to go and see them as an emergency, or tell you to head straight to the hospital. If the pain is becoming more severe, it could lead to a life-threatening situation, as the appendix may have burst and will need to be attended to urgently, as will the removal of the appendix.
Appendicitis can be confused with other issues, such as:
• Bladder, or urine infections
• Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
• Pelvic infection
• Crohn’s disease
In women, appendicitis can also be confused with other abdominal problems, including menstrual pain and Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID).
If the symptoms get worse, or an individual is not sure of what may be causing the pain, the NHS recommends calling the local doctor, or NHS 111 for advice.
If you are admitted to hospital for appendicitis, in most cases, the appendix will be removed. As the body does not require the appendix, it can be taken out without effects on other parts of the body.
Surgery to remove the appendix is called an appendicectomy, or appendectomy. It is classed as one of the most common surgical procedures in the UK and has an excellent success rate.
If the appendix needs removing, the surgery typically requires keyhole surgery to take it out. This type of surgery is minimally evasive. Small incisions are made in the abdomen to remove the appendix. In some cases, if the appendix is difficult to remove this way, open surgery may be conducted, and a larger incision is created to remove it.
After surgery, many people recover in just a few weeks. However, some people may require longer.
There can also be some complications in appendicitis if it is not treated quickly. If this happens, the appendix could burst, and the lining of the abdomen will become infected with bacteria. This condition is called peritonitis. In extreme cases, it can cause harm to organs and become life-threatening. Abscesses may also form around a burst appendix.
A burst appendix is extremely painful and individuals will also experience other symptoms, such as a high temperature, rapid heart rate, swelling and severe pain.
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In most cases, appendicitis is a short-term condition that does not affect the quality of life.
If an individual experiences appendicitis, there will be a period of recovery after surgery, and typically, life carries on as usual.
If complications occur, getting back to normal may take slightly longer, as the body will take time to heal from the surgery and infection. Antibiotics may be needed to prevent further issues.
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In the first instance, support and treatment will be administered by your GP, or local hospital. They will ensure that you receive the correct care and treatment for appendicitis and also support you throughout the recovery.
If issues are experienced after the appendix has been removed, it is advisable to revisit the doctor and discuss this as soon as possible.
You can find a wealth of information for appendicitis by visiting the NHS website.
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Medical terms are often baffling and difficult to fully understand. To help, we have listed some frequently used terms below.
- Abdomen / abdominal – the section of the body that contains all of the structures between the chest area and the pelvis
- Abscesses – a collection of bacteria, or pus
- Antibiotics – medication that destroys, or reduces the growth of bacteria
- Appendix – a small pouch connected to the large intestine and can be 2 to 4 inches long.
- Bacteria – single-celled organisms
- Constipation – a condition where there is difficulty regularly emptying the bowels
- Crohn’s disease – a type of inflammatory bowel disease causing chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract
- Diarrhoea – a condition of having at least three loose, liquid, or watery bowl movements each day
- Gastroenteritis – inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract (the stomach and intestines) causing diarrhoea, vomiting, or abdominal pain
- Inflammation – the process by which the body fights against things that can harm it, such as infections, injuries and toxins
- Keyhole surgery – small incisions made in the abdomen to conduct a surgical procedure; it is also commonly known as a – laparoscopy
- Nausea – the sensation of an urge to vomit (be sick)