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Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix, an 8.9 centimeter long tube of tissue that extends from the large intestine. Appendicitis is a medical emergency that requires prompt surgery to remove the appendix. Left untreated, an inflamed appendix will eventually burst, or perforate, spilling infectious materials into the abdominal cavity. This can lead to peritonitis, a serious inflammation of the abdominal cavity's lining that can be fatal unless it is treated quickly with strong antibiotics.
What causes appendicitis?
Appendicitis occurs when the appendix becomes blocked, often by stool, a foreign body, or cancer. Blockage may also occur from infection, since the appendix swells in response to any infection in the body.
The classic symptoms of appendicitis include:
- Dull pain near the navel or the upper abdomen that becomes sharp as it moves to the lower right abdomen. This is usually the first sign.
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and/or vomiting soon after abdominal pain begins
- Abdominal swelling
- Inability to pass gas
Almost half the time, other symptoms of appendicitis appear, including:
- Dull or sharp pain anywhere in the upper or lower abdomen, back, or rectum
- Painful urination
- Vomiting that precedes the abdominal pain
- Severe cramps
- Constipation or diarrhoea with gas
Call your doctor if you have pain that matches these symptoms. Do not eat, drink, or use any pain remedies, antacids, laxatives, or heating pads, which can cause an inflamed appendix to rupture.
How is appendicitis treated?
Surgery to remove the appendix, which is called an appendectomy, is the standard treatment for appendicitis.
If appendicitis is even suspected, doctors tend to err on the side of safety and quickly remove the appendix to avoid its rupture. If the appendix has formed an abscess, you may have two procedures: one to drain the abscess of pus and fluid, and a later one to remove the appendix.
Antibiotics are given before an appendectomy to fight possible peritonitis. General anesthesia is usually given, and the appendix is removed through a 10.2centimeter incision or by laparoscopy. If you have peritonitis, the abdomen is also irrigated and drained of pus.
Within 12 hours of surgery you may get up and move around. You can usually return to normal activities in 2 to 3 weeks. If surgery is done with a laparoscope (a thin telescope-like instrument for viewing inside the abdomen), the incision is smaller and recovery is faster.
Can appendicitis be prevented?
There is no way to prevent appendicitis. However, appendicitis is less common in people who eat foods high in fiber, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
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