Health

All You Need To Know About Appendicitis: Symptoms, Causes And Care

Appendicitis occurs when your appendix becomes inflamed, likely due to a blockage. The appendix is a small pouch attached to the cecum of the large intestine, sometimes it’s called the vermiform appendix where vermiform means “worm-shaped”. It’s an off but cute little worm-like structure, whose function is actually unknown. Although some theories suggest that it might be a “safe house” for the gut flora, some evidence seems to suggest it plays a part in the lymphatic and immune systems. 

Some people even believe it is just a pointless vestigial organ we got from our ancestors. But whatever the case may be, it is an organ that easily gets inflamed and causes abdominal pain, a condition known as appendicitis. 

In this article, we’ll review what appendicitis is, its symptoms, causes, prevention, and other important topics. 

What is appendicitis?

Appendicitis is a medical condition that occurs when there is an inflammation of the appendix. The exact cause of appendicitis is often unknown, but it’s commonly associated with a blockage in the appendix, often due to a buildup of mucus, stool, or lymphatic tissue. It can cause symptoms like cramping or intense abdominal pain. If left untreated, it can cause your appendix to burst, which can even be life-threatening, scary right?

In the United States, it is the most common cause of abdominal pain resulting in surgery. Up to 9 percent of Americans experience it at some point in their lives. 

Acute appendicitis 

Acute appendicitis is a severe and sudden case of appendicitis typically due to an obstruction of the appendiceal lumen. It is the most common cause of acute abdomen requiring emergency surgical treatment in both children and adults between the ages of 10 and 30 and occurs more frequently in males than females.  The pain tends to develop and become more intense quickly over the course of 24 hours. 

Acute appendicitis is more common than chronic appendicitis, occurring in about 7 to 9 percent of all Americans in their lifetime. 

Chronic appendicitis 

This one is less common than acute appendicitis and it occurs only in about 1.5 percent of all people who have already had a case of chronic appendicitis. 

One thing about it is how the symptoms may be mild and can lead to acute appendicitis.  The symptoms may come and go and this can happen for weeks, months, and even years. It can be quite challenging to diagnose and sometimes it’s not diagnosed until it reaches a stage of acute appendicitis. This doesn’t mean it is better, it is actually very dangerous and can cause serious if care is not taken. 

Symptoms of appendicitis 

Abdominal pain 

It often starts around the belly button and then shifts to the lower right side of the abdomen. And it can be painful to cough, sneeze, and, walk. Sometimes some patients feel immense pain when they press on the area and release.

Nausea and vomiting

You might feel nauseous and experience vomiting, which might occur after the onset of abdominal pain.

Fever

A mild to moderate fever might occur due to your body’s natural immune response. It is usually a common symptom.

Loss of appetite 

You might feel the desire to eat but wouldn’t be able to due to a complete loss of appetite. This can be due to the pain occurring in your abdominal area. Eating just wouldn’t look like a good even if you may feel hungry. 

Constipation

There can be difficulty or inability to pass stool and this could be a sign of a blockage. This can cause pain, bloating, and nausea.

Causes 

Although the reasons behind it are usually unknown, it’s expected that about 50 cases are caused by some of the following things: 

Enlarged lymphoid tissue

The appendix contains lymphoid tissue that can swell due to infection, which can cause obstruction and can lead to pain. 

Intestinal viral infection

Sometimes, if an infection occurs in the gastrointestinal tract, it can lead to the inflammation of your appendix. 

Obstruction

The appendix can become blocked by fecal matter, mucus, enlarged lymphoid follicles, or even parasites, which can lead to a buildup of bacteria which then causes inflammation.

Trauma

Even though this is quite rare, physical trauma or injury to the abdomen might trigger appendicitis in some cases. This is why it’s always important to avoid engaging in dangerous activities that can cause injury.

Risk factors 

Here are some factors that might increase a person’s risk of developing it.

Low-fiber diets 

A diet low in fiber might contribute to an increased risk of developing appendicitis. Fiber improves gut health, and if there is a free flow of movement in your gut it can cause a build of food which can lead to bacteria and then cause serious abdominal pain. 

Age

Your age can also play a role. While appendicitis can occur at any age, it is most common in people between the ages of 10 and 30. 

Gender

Appendicitis is slightly more common in males than in females. 

Family history

It can be quite generational to develop this issue. If your family has a history of it, you might be at risk. 

Other medical conditions

Some conditions, like cystic fibrosis, might elevate the risk of appendicitis.

Diagnosis of appendicitis

Many people wonder how it is diagnosed. Diagnostic procedures may include the following: 

Blood test 

This is to check for signs of infections such as elevated white blood cell counts.

Urine test 

A urine test is carried out to rule out a urinary tract infection.

Imaging procedure 

-Abdominal ultrasound: this is a diagnostic technique that uses high-frequency sound waves and a computer to create images of blood vessel tissues and organs. 

-CT Scan: A diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images often called slices, both horizontally and vertically in the body. A CT scan is really necessary as it shows more detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. 

Treatment options for appendicitis 

The standard treatment is surgical removal of the inflamed appendix, a procedure known as an appendectomy. This procedure is typically performed as soon as possible after diagnosis to prevent complications like a burst appendix.

There are two primary ways to perform an appendectomy:

Open appendectomy 

A traditional surgical approach where the doctor makes a single incision in the lower right area of the abdomen to remove the appendix. The patient will be hospitalized for at least 3 days during this period.

Laparoscopic appendectomy

This is when the doctor these tiny little incisions on the abdomen and inserts tools in order to remove the appendix.  It’s usually only about 1 to 2 days of hospitalization before the patient is discharged. 

Overall, laparoscopic procedures are a lot safer and more clinically beneficial for the patient. Also, one side effect that’s important to note after laparoscopic procedures is right shoulder tip pain. And this happens because the abdomen is inflated with Co2, and when Co2 rises it causes irritation on the phrenic nerve causing referred pain on the right shoulder. In case you may be wondering what referred pain means, it is a type of pain that is felt on one part of the body which is actually caused by injury or irritation in another part of the body. 

Some other forms of treatment include 

Nursing intervention 

When appendicitis is suspected in a person a nurse can perform some procedures including:

  • making sure the patient is ready for surgery.
  • putting the patient in the side-lying position with the knees flexed, to help with the pressure and relieve some pain. 
  • Apply ice packs (not heat packs) to help with the pain. 

Medical intervention 

  • Pain control techniques 
  • Antibiotics 

Prevention strategies 

Preventing appendicitis isn’t always possible as the exact cause isn’t always clear, but there are some preventive measures or lifestyle changes to reduce the risk. They include:

High-fiber diet

This is a very important and top way to prevent appendicitis. Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can promote regular bowel movements and reduce the risk of blockage in your appendix.

Stay hydrated 

Drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated can aid in maintaining regular bowel movements and overall digestive health.

Keeping a healthy lifestyle

Maintaining a healthy weight and overall lifestyle, including regular exercise and eating clean can add to overall good health and potentially reduce the risk of certain conditions, although there’s no direct evidence these measures prevent appendicitis, they’re still important in keeping your body healthy.

Immediate medical attention 

Seeking medical attention immediately if you experience things like severe abdominal pain, swelling of your belly, nausea, and fever can help prevent complications associated with a burst appendix. The earlier you treat it the better for you.

It is true these strategies may promote overall health, however, there’s no evidence they prevent appendicitis entirely as it can occur unexpectedly and without identifiable causes. However, early medical attention and diagnosis will always be effective ways to manage appendicitis.

Appendicitis in children (How they manifest)

It is most common among children between the ages of 9-15. The condition is rarely observed in children between 2 to 8 years of age. 

The cause of this condition in children may be some of the following:

  • obstructions caused by injuries, foreign organisms, worms, tumors, and cancer.
  • infections that can cause the appendix to swell.

Symptoms in children:

  • lower abdominal pain
  • nausea or vomiting 
  • low to mild fever
  • loss of appetite 
  • pain while urinating 
  • swelling in the abdomen 
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • abdominal cramps 

Diagnosing appendicitis in children can be challenging because their symptoms might mimic other common childhood illnesses. Due to this, the doctors will analyze medical history and conduct physical exams. Further tests to perform a diagnosis include:

  • blood tests
  • urine tests
  • abdominal ultrasound 
  • CT or CAT scan

There are several treatment options they can undergo such as surgery to remove the appendix. This is safe, as the appendix is a vestigial organ and has no particular function. 

After surgery, intravenous (IV) fluids with medication are administered to the child. They will have to stay longer at the hospital if the appendix is ruptured. Some antibiotics are prescribed after the child is discharged. It’s also advisable to not allow your child to participate in strenuous physical activities and lifting heavy objects must be avoided for some time. 

Post-surgery care tips for the child also include: 

  • light movements to prevent constipation 
  • eating foods rich in fiber with plenty of fluids when they start eating solid meals.

There aren’t definitive ways to prevent this condition in children, however, medical experts recommend a high-fiber diet to lower the risk of appendicitis, as fiber softens stools. 

See a doctor immediately if your child is in severe pain. A ruptured appendix causes more complications and is harder to recover from. Like any other condition, appendicitis can be very dangerous if it is ignored. Make sure you stay informed and alert so that your child receives immediate help and recovers quickly. 

Post-surgical care tips for appendicitis 

After undergoing an appendectomy (surgical removal of the appendix), proper recovery and aftercare procedures are key for a smooth healing process. Here are some tips to follow:

Rest

It’s very important you take enough rest after surgery. Take it easy and give your body time to heal. Avoid strenuous activities and heavy lifting during the initial recovery period.

Diet

You can start with clear liquids and progress to bland, easily digestible meals as recommended by your doctor. Then gradually resume regular foods as time goes on. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables can help you recover faster.

Follow post-surgery instructions

Make sure you follow instructions given to you by your doctor regarding wound care, medications, and follow-up appointments. 

Pain management

Take prescribed pain medications as directed by your doctor to manage post-surgery pain and discomfort you might face.

Wound care

Keep the incision area clean and dry. Follow instructions regarding dressing changes and any signs of infection to watch for, such as increased redness, swelling, or discharge from the incision site. If you notice any of these make sure you go to your doctor to know what further steps to take.

Activity

During this period it is best to avoid any intense activity. Gradually resume your normal activities as advised by your doctor. Avoid intense physical activities until your doctor gives you the go-ahead.

Hydration

Always drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, as this can aid your recovery process.

Watch for complications

Be aware of potential signs of complications like persistent fever, increasing abdominal pain, or any unusual symptoms, and seek medical attention immediately if they occur.

Follow-up

Attend all follow-up appointments as scheduled for a check-up and to ensure proper healing. Never miss or skip a meeting with your doctor.

Every person’s recovery process is different. However, one thing stands and that is seeking immediate medical attention if any concerns arise during your recovery phase, as this is crucial for a successful healing process. 

What happens if appendicitis is left untreated?

If you don’t get immediate medical help there are potentially serious complications that can arise including:

Peritonitis

If left ignored, the appendix can burst and cause its infected fluids to leak into the abdominal cavity. This could affect the abdominal lining, leading to peritonitis, which can be life-threatening.

Abscess formation

Before a rupture, an abscess (a localized collection of pus) might form around the inflamed appendix. If this occurs, it can require drainage or surgical intervention to prevent further complications

Septicemia 

The ruptured appendix contents release harmful bacteria into the bloodstream. These bacteria could cause an infection of the blood called septicemia. Which can be dangerous. 

Other complications

Untreated appendicitis can lead to the spread of infection to organs surrounding it, and this increases the risk of complications like intestinal blockage or a pocket of infection (pocket of pus) known as phlegmon.

Always seek immediate attention if you suspect you have appendicitis. Prompt diagnosis and treatment, typically involving surgical removal of the appendix, are crucial to prevent these potentially life-threatening complications associated with untreated appendicitis. 

Take away 

Appendicitis is a condition that occurs when the appendix, which is located in the lower abdomen becomes inflamed or is filled with pus. It is quite common in people between the ages of 10 and 30 years of age. The condition can lead to abdominal pain, typically starting around the belly button and then moving to the lower right side of the abdomen. Other symptoms might include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and fever. If left untreated can cause some serious health complications such as the appendix rupturing or forming an abscess, which can be serious and potentially life-threatening.  

It’s important to note that symptoms of appendicitis can vary from person to person, and not everyone will experience all of these symptoms.  The exact cause isn’t always clear, but blockage of the appendix is a common factor that often leads to inflammation, infection, and subsequent symptoms of appendicitis. Surgery to remove the appendix is a common and best form of treatment option. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Is surgery the only treatment for appendicitis?

Surgery, specifically an appendectomy (removal of the appendix), is the primary and most effective form of treatment for appendicitis, especially in cases where the appendix is inflamed or at risk of rupturing. 

However, in certain events, antibiotics might be considered if the diagnosis of appendicitis is clear but the inflammation isn’t severe. Immediate surgery can pose risks due to underlying health issues of the patient in question.

Can appendicitis resolve on its own without surgery?

In some rare cases, appendicitis might resolve on its own without the need for surgery. This situation is known as “resolved appendicitis” or “spontaneous resolution,” which occurs when the body’s immune system successfully fights off the infection-causing appendicitis and ends up reducing inflammation.

However, this rarely happens and should not be used as a treatment strategy. It is very risky to assume that appendicitis will resolve on its own without medical intervention. 

Delaying or avoiding treatment can increase the risk of complications, such as a burst appendix or severe infection and this can be life-threatening. Never joke with your body and seek immediate medical treatment if you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above. 

Can appendicitis occur more than once in a person’s lifetime?

Appendicitis can occur more than once in a person’s lifetime, although it’s not common for the same person to experience it more than once. Because once the appendix is removed through an appendectomy, the chances of experiencing appendicitis in that particular location are very slim. 

However, in very rare cases, a small piece of the appendix might still remain even after surgery, leading to the possibility of a recurrence. Additionally, there’s a chance of developing it in a different area of the intestine, although this event is extremely uncommon.

While it’s unusual for someone to experience the condition more than once after the appendix has been removed, it’s not impossible. If a person experiences symptoms similar to appendicitis even after an appendectomy, it’s essential to seek medical help to know what’s causing the symptoms.

What should I do if I suspect someone has appendicitis?

If you suspect someone has appendicitis, firstly seek medical help immediately by calling for emergency medical assistance or take the person to the nearest hospital as soon as possible.  Do not give the person anything to eat or drink, including pain medications, as this might interfere with potential surgical procedures. 

Help the individual get into a comfortable position. Encourage them to lie down and remain still to minimize movement, which can reduce pain. Don’t try to press or massage the area they feel pain, you might end up doing more harm than good. While waiting for medical help, pay attention to the person’s symptoms, including abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, and any changes in their condition.

Lastly, be ready to provide information to the doctor regarding the person’s symptoms, the onset and duration of pain, any previous medical history, and any medications they are currently taking. This can help save them.

Can antibiotics alone treat appendicitis without surgery?

Well in some cases of uncomplicated appendicitis where the diagnosis is clear, antibiotics might be used as an alternative treatment. This approach is known as “antibiotics-first” or “non-operative management,” where it involves using antibiotics to reduce inflammation and infection in the appendix without immediately proceeding to surgery.

However, the use of antibiotics alone for appendicitis isn’t always a go-to or long-term solution. This approach is typically considered in specific situations, such as when immediate surgery poses risks due to the underlying health conditions of the patient involved. 

The use of antibiotic treatment for appendicitis may vary. It’s important to closely monitor the patient’s response to antibiotics and their symptoms. In some cases, despite antibiotic treatment, the inflammation might persist, which can call for a surgical intervention (appendectomy) to prevent potential complications such as a burst appendix. 

The decision to use solely antibiotics to treat this condition should be made by the doctor and not the patient after they’ve been able to evaluate the situation at hand. 

Overall surgery remains the standard treatment for most cases of appendicitis to prevent complications and the condition from reappearing.

How soon should I seek medical attention if I suspect appendicitis?

If you have experienced abdominal pain, especially if it’s persistent and worsens, nausea and vomiting, loss of Appetite, fever, and pain or discomfort when you touch your lower right abdomen, it may indicate that you have appendicitis. Make sure you get prompt medical evaluation by a doctor, preferably in an emergency room or urgent care setting.

 Do not wait for the symptoms to worsen or resolve on their own, delaying medical attention can increase the risk of complications associated with appendicitis. And you may be putting your life in danger if you do this. So make sure you take these symptoms seriously and seek help.

Related posts

Trouble sleeping at night? : 15 ways to help your child sleep better at night 

Grace Oluchi

Kilo Health: A Digital Wellness Solution for You.

Grace Oluchi

Best heart rate monitors in 2024.

Grace Oluchi

Leave a Comment